Trump U.N. pick echoes his criticism but breaks from him on issues

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump’s pick for U.N. ambassador echoed his condemnation of the world body and pledged to push for reforms at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, but broke from the president-elect on some other policy issues, including Russia and NATO.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley seconded criticism of the United Nations by Trump and many of their fellow Republicans before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, especially for what she termed its “bias” against Israel.

Some Republicans want to stop U.S. funding for the United Nations over a Security Council resolution last month demanding an end to settlement building that the United States declined to veto, instead of abstaining.

Haley pledged that she would not abstain on U.N. votes. But she did not back “slashing” U.N. funding. The United States provides 22 percent of the U.N. budget.

Trump took to Twitter in the wake of the Israel vote to criticize the 193-member world body as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” He warned “things will be different” after he takes office, without offering details.

Haley said Washington should always back Israel. “If we always stand with them, more countries will want to be our allies,” she said.

Haley said she “absolutely” backs moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. That shift, which would up-end decades of U.S. policy, is supported by Trump and congressional Republicans but seen by the Palestinians and many Arab states as an impediment to Middle East peace.

Although some Democrats questioned Haley’s lack of diplomatic experience, she is expected to be approved. At the end of the mostly non-contentious hearing, Senator Bob Corker, the committee’s Republican chairman, said he expected she would be confirmed “overwhelmingly.”

Haley, a rising star in the Republican party who turns 45 on Friday when Trump takes office, has only held office in South Carolina. She has been governor since 2011.

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Haley praised U.N. food programs, efforts to alleviate AIDS, its weapons monitoring and some peacekeeping missions, a departure from Trump’s criticisms.

Haley also broke from Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin. She agreed that Russian actions in Syria such as bombing hospitals are “war crimes,” condemned Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and said she would oppose easing sanctions until Moscow changes.

“I think that Russia has to have positive actions before we lift any sanctions on Russia,” she said. Haley said she had not had detailed conversations with Trump about Russia or China.

The United States and its frequent rivals Russia and China all hold permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council, along with U.S. allies Britain and France.

Haley did not advocate backing out of the international nuclear agreement with Iran, which is supported by the United Nations, although she said it should be closely reviewed. She also praised the NATO alliance.


Some other Trump nominees, including his choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and his Pentagon nominee, retired Marine General James Mattis, have also veered from Trump’s national security positions during their hearings.

Several senators, including Republicans, have said they hope some appointees will rein in his more controversial positions.

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“I would far rather have a strong-willed, capable, elected leader with experience at the state level who says those things than someone who has been a diplomat for 30 years and says: ‘Oh, I’ll do whatever Donald Trump says’,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons told reporters.

Some questioned whether the president-elect would change. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said the Tillerson and Haley hearings were in “an alternate universe,” given two years of Trump statements backing torture or suggesting NATO is obsolete.

“That’s all going to change after Friday?” Murphy asked.

Haley said she expected Trump’s Cabinet would try to influence him. “I do anticipate that he will listen to all of us, and that hopefully we will get him to see it the way we see it,” she said.

Haley did not endorse Trump during last year’s primaries and has warned that some of his most inflammatory statements promoted dangerous hate. She initially backed the presidential bid of Senator Marco Rubio and later Senator Ted Cruz.

She acknowledged her lack of diplomatic experience but said her time as governor would stand her in good stead.

“I would suggest there is nothing more important to a governor’s success than her ability to unite those with different backgrounds, viewpoints and objectives behind a common purpose,” she said.

Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, praised Haley for being willing to disagree with Trump.

Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, rose to national prominent last year after she led a push to remove a Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds after a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston.

She already has fans at U.N. headquarters.

“She’s a very respected politician and a highly regarded and results-driven professional,” France’s ambassador, Francois Delattre, told reporters on Tuesday. Delattre met Haley in his previous role as French ambassador to the United States.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by John Walcott and James Dalgleish