WASHINGTON ― South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told a Senate hearing Wednesday that she opposes two of Trump’s most controversial positions: his determination to build a partnership with Russia and his support for a registry of Muslims in the U.S.
“Crimea is Ukraine, not Russia,” Haley said, criticizing Moscow’s two-year occupation of the region and its ongoing conflict with the pro-European government in Ukraine, which has claimed close to 10,000 lives. She would not support lifting Crimea-related sanctions on Russia until President Vladimir Putin makes some concessions to the U.S., she added.
“Russia is trying to show their muscle right now ... I don’t think that we can trust them,” Haley said.
Seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, the governor was at pains during the hearing to both satisfy GOP leaders in Congress and avoid creating tension with her boss-to-be.
Haley shied away from directly criticizing Trump but suggested that she remains wary of many of his views and of his style, which has included name-calling and direct criticisms of major world leaders.
When Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) raised concerns about Trump’s comments on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for instance, Haley said she valued U.S. partners and indicated that she would prefer a different approach. In stark contrast to Trump, a critic of current U.S. allies, the governor spoke of building stronger and broader U.S. alliances. She commended NATO, the Western partnership Trump has repeatedly called obsolete.
Asked about countering Russian aggression later in the hearing, she told senators: “We agree on Russia ... and I know that your concerns on the comments of the president-elect are best-suited to ask him and not me.”
Haley called Russia’s takeover of Crimea illegal and criticized Putin’s support for the internationally condemned government of Syria; Trump has said he would be open to recognizing Crimea as Russian and has called Syrian President Bashar Assad a potential ally. She characterized Russia’s actions in Syria as war crimes.
A critic of Trump during the Republican presidential primary and the race to the White House, Haley said she had discussed Russia with the president-elect but provided no specifics.
The governor tried to pull away from Trump’s claim that he would stop U.S. support for the U.N. if he felt it did not do what Washington wanted. “I know that he had made comments about the U.N., but those are not my feelings,” Haley said. “I do not think we should have a slash and burn of the U.N.”
She praised the organization’s role in combating global hunger and medical crises, as well as weapons proliferation.
And she added that she would not support Trump’s previous talk of a so-called Muslim registry, claiming that Trump’s views had changed. “This administration and I do not think there should be any registry,” she said.
The governor spent much of her time talking about one foreign policy issue the incoming president and his party do agree on: boosting the conservative government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Haley blasted a December United Nations Security Council resolution condemning controversial Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, characterizing it as a moment when the international body was “at odds with the American interest.”
She endorsed Trump’s stated desire to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a city the Israelis and Palestinians share and strongly disagree on.
She also underscored her opposition to the nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S. and five world powers, a deal both Trump and top GOP leaders have frequently blasted.
But foreign policy watchers continue to be skeptical of her appointment ― given her lack of international experience ― and of the impact Trump could have on the U.S.’s role in the world.
Farnaz Fassihi, a Wall Street Journal reporter who closely watches the U.N., questioned Haley’s grasp of the international entity’s Security Council.
And Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the running mate for Trump’s former rival Hillary Clinton, pushed Haley to recognize the kind of hypocrisy her job might entail.
After pressing her to speak about the importance of press freedom around the world and the U.N.’s role in protecting that freedom, Kaine began to list Trump’s actions toward the press, such as blacklisting specific outlets and mocking reporters.
Would Haley, he asked, consider those violations of press freedom?
With a laugh, the Trump pick deflected the question and turned away.
This article has been updated with more information from the hearing.