Donald Trump nominates Kelly Craft for UN ambassador role

The current US ambassador to Canada is a major Republican donor who also worked for president George W. Bush

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2017, file photo, United States Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft speaks after presenting her credentials during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)
Powered by automated translation

President Donald Trump on Friday put forward Kelly Craft, his ambassador to Canada and a major donor to the Republican Party, as his pick to head the US mission at the United Nations.

In a pair of tweets announcing the nomination, Mr Trump said Mrs Craft had done “an outstanding job representing our nation” in her current role, and he had no doubt that “under her leadership our country would be represented at the highest level”.

The 56-year-old is the second name that Mr Trump has proposed to replace Nikki Haley, who unexpectedly stood down in December as America's permanent representative to the UN.

The US president's first choice, State Department spokeswoman and former Fox News presenter Heather Nauert, withdrew her candidacy a week ago after it was discovered that she had employed a nanny illegally. Her nomination had been criticised on account of her lacking any significant experience in policymaking or diplomacy and it later emerged that her papers were never formally submitted for consideration.

Mrs Craft may have an easier ride to confirmation by the Republican-controlled US Senate, having served since October 2017 as ambassador to Canada. She is the first woman to hold the role.

Having initially supported Florida Senator Marco Rubio during the 2016 presidential election, Mrs Craft switched to Mr Trump. She and her husband Joe Craft, a billionaire coal industry executive in Kentucky, donated more than $2 million to the Trump campaign.

It is understood that in the last few days Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was among those in Washington who were suggesting Mrs Craft's name to Mr Trump.

The appointment of a new US permanent representative at the UN has become more pressing with the crisis in Venezuela causing diplomatic deadlock on the Security Council.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York on Thursday to discuss the situation in Caracas. The United States, which backs opposition leader Juan Guaido, and Russia, a supporter of President Nicolas Maduro, have proposed rival resolutions on the Council regarding the path to a political solution.

Mr Pompeo issued a supportive statement about Mrs Craft's credentials for the UN post shortly after the US president announced the nomination.

“Ambassador Craft has been an outstanding advocate for America's national security and economic interests in Canada and she is extremely well-qualified to do the same at the United Nations,” said the US secretary of state. “I look forward to her confirmation.”

It is unclear how long the confirmation process will take but some haste is likely.

The lack of a US permanent representative for more than two months has become a cause for concern given major diplomatic challenges not only in Venezuela but also in Syria, after the announcement of a US troop withdrawal in December, as well as in Yemen and the wider Middle East. A government shutdown in January also led to many policy specialists at the US mission not being at work, undermining American influence at the UN.

Dr James Cockayne, director of policy research at United Nations University, said Mrs Craft's nomination comes at a difficult time because US relations with traditional European allies are strained and the Security Council's five permanent members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US) diverge on many issues.

While Mrs Craft's candidacy could bode well for Africa - she worked on such matters for then US president George W. Bush at the UN more than a decade ago - it could be bad for climate action, a major concern after the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris Climate accord.

“The US needs to fill the empty chair,” said Dr Cockayne.

“The permanent representative has a position of real influence in executing US foreign policy because of the position's high level contact with friends and adversaries on a daily basis. Having the job vacant has left open a space at the UN for other actors to develop influence.”