Is Nikki Haley looking to move up?
While the world’s attention focused on US President Donald Trump’s high-level meetings and his first address at the UN General Assembly, observers in Washington were also closely watching Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Haley, the 45-year-old former governor of South Carolina, had no foreign policy experience before assuming her diplomatic post in January. Since then, however, she has proven to be politically adept and forceful in defence of the Trump administration’s agenda. Many people say Haley is the most likely candidate to replace US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who officially is her boss, should Tillerson resign or be squeezed out.
Many also say that she aims to one day run for the White House.
Haley, who was born Nimrata Randhawa, is the daughter of Indian Sikh immigrants from Punjab. She is the first Indian-American to hold a cabinet-level position in the US government and only the second to be elected governor of a US state.
Among her successes at the United Nations were twice persuading the UN Security Council — including China and Russia — to tighten sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s missile tests. Her efforts were praised by both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, as well as by top US allies.
Despite her lack of prior foreign policy experience, people who know Haley say they are not surprised by how she has performed. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group consultancy, said: “Nikki is a politician and has worked as a politician her whole life. She’s more flexible and willing to be charismatic. The lack of experience has not hurt her.”
Haley has strongly supported Trump’s hard-line position towards Iran — in contrast to Tillerson’s more measured approach — and is believed to support US withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Tehran. She has argued that, under the deal, the world will be facing “another North Korea” within a decade.
She also is outspoken in her support for Israel. In her first address to the United Nations as US ambassador, she said: “Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel.”
While he was in New York, Trump was accompanied by Haley nearly as often as he was by Tillerson, even though Tillerson is by far a more senior official. Moreover, prior to the president’s New York meetings, it was Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster who briefed the media.
Haley has consistently denied that she would like to be secretary of state and she was reportedly offered and refused the position by Trump before he took office. That was before her UN experience, however, and before she had developed a taste for diplomacy. Her strong showing in New York may lead her to reconsider if Trump were to make the offer again.
“She would be a more capable spokeswoman for the Trump administration’s foreign policy [than Tillerson],” said Bremmer.