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Tough-talking Haley, once a critic, is Trump's voice at UN

© AFP/File / by Dave Clark | Blunt language has won US Ambassador Nikki Haley immediate attention at the United Nations, where she has vowed to reinvigorate what she calls the "stale" institutional culture


The career diplomats working at the UN headquarters building don't yet quite know what to make of the outspoken newcomer in their midst, US ambassador Nikki Haley.

But they agree on two things: She seems intent on shaking things up as she assumes the rotating chair of the Security Council and she's not afraid to use undiplomatic language.

This was on display again when she appeared on America's Sunday morning political talk shows to stake out US positions and defend her boss, US President Donald Trump.

Not much will get done under the month-long US presidency of the Security Council if veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China block US initiatives.

But Haley did not hold back.

Haley told ABC News that, whatever Trump has said about his respect for President Vladimir Putin, the US leader "has not once called me and said, 'Don't beat up on Russia.'"

And she did indeed chide the Kremlin, warning that Russia's actions in Ukraine and any interference in the US election that brought Trump into the White House would be punished.

"We called them out for it," she insisted.

China is also in her crosshairs, despite this week's preparations for Trump to meet his counterpart Xi Jinping to set the tone for relations between the great powers.

In an interview with news agency reporters, Haley demanded that China halt covert imports of North Korean coal and work seriously to halt Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

"I know China says they're worried about North Korea. I know China wants to see North Korea stop with the testing. Prove it. Prove it," she said.

The blunt language has won Haley immediate attention at the United Nations, where she has vowed to reinvigorate what she calls the "stale" institutional culture.

Eyebrows were raised when Trump picked the 45-year-old governor of South Carolina -- a fellow Republican with little foreign policy experience -- as Washington's voice at the world body.

- Outsider perspective -

But, in her own view, she has a track record in shaking up staid, traditional government bodies.

"Institutions always benefit from an outsider's perspective," she told the Council on Foreign Relations think tank last week.

"In South Carolina, I was the first minority governor and -- a real shock to the state -- the first girl governor as well."

Haley was born to immigrant Indian American parents, but she rose quickly in South Carolina politics and was reportedly considered as a possible vice presidential pick by 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Her conservative views were popular in South Carolina. And she won national attention by supporting the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse after a racist gun massacre in her state.

In February last year, as Trump was challenging the Republican establishment to secure the party's White House nomination, she called the brash property baron "everything a governor doesn't want in a president."

And just weeks before the vote she admitted she was "not a fan" of the candidate.

Nevertheless, the former outsider who had once been the nation's youngest governor was an early pick by Trump's transition team.

At the US mission, Haley replaces former ambassador Samantha Power, an outspoken foreign policy academic who was popular with her Security Council colleagues.

Haley is a veteran of retail politics in the American South and has a very different style -- plainspoken but warm and direct -- which envoys from US allies privately welcome.

And just as she brings a different personality and perspective to her role, she stands out among her colleagues in the Trump administration foreign policy team.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has adopted an almost undercover style, spurning most opportunities to talk to the press and public on his travels.

- Policy still in flux -

Other influential policymakers, like Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, work mostly behind the scenes.

Haley, however, has an energetic public schedule. As a full cabinet member who answers to Trump, she has in some ways become the voice of a US foreign policy still in flux.

Last week she addressed the AIPAC pro-Israel group in Washington, delivered her remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, then whizzed back to the capital late Wednesday.

On Thursday she was back in New York to attend the Security Council session, brief reporters and symbolically receive the Security Council gavel from British ambassador Matthew Rycroft at an evening drinks event.

From Monday, she will wield this hammer in the world body's top committee, and she has laid out an ambitious agenda, beginning with a bid to host a debate on human rights that will be resisted by many of America's opponents.

by Dave Clark

© 2017 AFP