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US Politics

US Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley steps down as Trump lauds her work with North Korea

Haley was credited by analysts with pressuring North Korea to join in talks, but they add that Kim Jong-un may have had his own agenda

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 10:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 12:18pm

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations whose toughened sanctions on North Korea helped push the country to discuss nuclear disarmament, is stepping down at the end of the year, it was announced on Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump revealed Haley’s resignation at the Oval Office on Tuesday morning with Haley sitting next to him – a rare setting for such a high-profile administration departure.

Praising Haley as “a fantastic person” who had done “an incredible job” at the UN, Trump said that “at the beginning North Korea was a massive problem, and now we’re moving along” without any missile and nuclear tests for about a year.

Trump also said that officials were in the process of arranging a second meeting between him and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was being planned after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Kim in Pyongyang over the weekend.

“We’re talking about three or four different locations,” Trump added, “Timing – won’t be too far away.”

Watch: When Haley told North Korea it faced ‘consequences’ for missile tests

Later in the day, Trump said his daughter Ivanka would make a “dynamite” replacement for Haley, but sounded hesitant to actually appoint her.

Ivanka [Trump] would be dynamite. But, you know, I would then be accused of nepotism
Donald Trump, on Haley’s replacement

“The people that know, know that Ivanka would be dynamite. But, you know, I would then be accused of nepotism,” Trump said.

Ivanka Trump then tweeted: “It is an honor to serve in the White House alongside so many great colleagues and I know that the President will nominate a formidable replacement for Ambassador Haley. That replacement will not be me.”

The president said he would name a successor within two to three weeks; he elaborated on this on Tuesday evening, telling reporters aboard Air Force One that he had a shortlist of five people to replace Haley, with White House adviser-turned-Golman Sachs partner Dina Powell among them.

Asked about US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, Trump said he “absolutely” would consider him but would rather keep him where he is because he is “doing such a good job”.

During the morning announcement, Trump said Haley had told him six months ago that she anticipated wanting to “take a little time off” at the end of a two-year period.

Russia ‘cheating’ on North Korea sanctions, Haley tells UN

Even so, Haley’s decision startled White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Vice-President Mike Pence, officials said. Trump teased an announcement less than 15 minutes before his appearance with Haley, after news organisations – starting with Axios – began reporting she would resign.

Several senior White House aides wondered about the timing of her decision, just weeks before midterm congressional elections.

“It has been the honour of a lifetime,” Haley said of the UN job, which she assumed in January 2017 and in which she led efforts to tighten US sanctions on North Korea and pressure Pyongyang to engage in talks to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

During her nearly two years at the UN, Haley played a key role in building support among other member nations for the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy, applying economic sanctions on North Korea to punish the regime for pursuing its nuclear weapon programme – a strategy that is at least partly credited with bringing Pyongyang to the negotiation table.

Haley slams rumours she had an affair with President Trump

During Haley’s tenure, the Security Council with the US, China, Russia, France and UK as five permanent members, passed a series of sanctions targeting exports to North Korea, including crude oil, that could support its nuclear weapons programme – sanctions Haley called “the largest in a generation, done in a way that we could really work towards denuclearising North Korea.”

UN sanctions had been piling up on North Korea since 2006, after six-nation talks involving North Korea, China, the US, Japan, South Korea and Russia broke down.

Still, the most recent sanctions, passed in August and September of 2017, effectively cut all trade with North Korea except for humanitarian deliveries and limited quantities of oil.

Prompted by North Korea’s last nuclear test detonation, on September 3, 2017, the Security Council unanimously passed the last sanctions resolution less than a week after Haley introduced it.

That resolution aimed to cut North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum products by 55 per cent and ban the supply of natural gas and natural gas derivatives to ensure they aren’t used as substitutes.

Banning North Korea’s textile exports and remittances by overseas North Korean workers to Pyongyang, the resolution was meant to cut North Korea’s revenues by more than US$1 billion annually.

Previous UN sanctions on North Korea stopped short of controls on oil and fuel, also at China’s behest, owing to concerns that such moves might destabilise the country and leave Beijing with a refugee problem. China shares a 1,400km border with North Korea.

Thomas Byrne, president of the New York-based non-profit organisation Korea Society, told the South China Morning Post that he credited Haley with assuming a key role at a sensitive time in relations with North Korea, which was ramping up its testing of nuclear bombs and the missiles that could carry them.

[Haley’s] response to North Korea’s escalation of provocative launches and nuke tests … worked to get North Korea to the negotiating table
Thomas Byrne, president of the Korea Society

“The US-led resolute response to North Korea’s escalation of provocative launches and nuke tests was effective, as it worked to get North Korea to the negotiating table in 2018,” Byrne said.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a former diplomat on the US State Department’s nuclear policy team, also told the Post that “Nikki Haley deserved praise for her role in pushing through strong sanctions resolutions vis-à-vis North Korea in 2017.”

However, while the sanctions probably played a role in persuading Kim to engage with the US, Fitzpatrick, now an executive director at the Washington-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, noted that “Kim may have been planning to do that all along once his tests were complete”.

Daryl Kimball, the executive director at the Arms Control Association, agreed that “the international pressure on North Korea has been a factor but not necessarily a decisive one in bringing the US and North Korea together for talks on denuclearisation and peace”.

“It became clear that by the end of 2017, North Korea had conducted enough nuclear and missile tests so as to be able to demonstrate its nuclear retaliatory capabilities and go to the negotiating table with substantial leverage,” Kimball said.

Xi Jinping will visit North Korea soon, says Seoul

Haley has repeatedly deflected speculation that she might harbour presidential aspirations of her own.

“No, I am not running in 2020,” the former South Carolina governor told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday. She would campaign for Trump, she added.

Haley went out of her way to praise Ivanka Trump at the Oval Office, and also lauded Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband, who serves as a presidential adviser on the Middle East and is said to be working on an Israel-Palestinian peace plan, though its unveiling has been delayed multiple times.

Jared is such a hidden genius that nobody understands
Nikki Haley, on Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law

“Jared is such a hidden genius that nobody understands,” Haley said. She added that both Jared and Ivanka “do a lot of things behind the scenes” that had not received publicity.

Another candidate for the position of UN ambassador is former Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, now a Goldman Sachs partner. Powell spent last weekend with Haley and their families on a boat in South Carolina.

US ambassadors to the UN typically serve short terms. Haley will have served longer than five of the last 10 ambassadors.

After a frosty relationship with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state, Haley and Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, often exchanged mutual praise.

‘Big guy’ Pompeo faced a hard bargain in latest Pyongyang visit

She backed Trump’s efforts to cut off funds for the UN organisation that aids Palestinians and joined in his attacks on Iran.

But she also hinted at disagreements with the president, saying she had a “personal conversation” with Trump about his equivocating response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse and The Guardian