By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday he was nominating Kelly Craft, currently the U.S. ambassador to Canada, to replace Nikki Haley as his envoy to the United Nations after a four-month search.
Craft, a top Republican donor from Kentucky, rose this week as a serious contender for the post based on a recommendation by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentuckian.
Craft will not hold a Cabinet-level position, as Haley did, a senior White House official said, after Trump decided to downgrade the post. Regardless, she will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“Kelly has done an outstanding job representing our Nation and I have no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level,” Trump said in a tweet announcing his decision.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Craft “extremely well-qualified” and an “outstanding advocate for America’s national security and economic interests in Canada.”
Craft met with Trump, Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton in the Oval Office on Friday, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.
She was seen as a tough negotiator in a new U.S. trade deal with Canada and Mexico and as ambassador to Canada established decent working relationships with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the source said.
If confirmed, Craft will have the difficult job of defending Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and navigating Trump’s criticism of the world body while getting global diplomats to back U.S. policies.
French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said he looked forward to working with Craft if she was confirmed by the Senate.
“I hope that Ms Craft will continue, like Nikki Haley, to be a bridge between Washington, DC and the U.N. at a time when we more than ever need an America that is engaged with the U.N. in world affairs and committed to our shared values, beginning with human rights,” Delattre said.
Haley, a rising Republican star who resigned in October and left in late 2018, was seen by her counterparts at the United Nations as a voice of clarity in a U.S. administration that often gave off mixed signals on foreign policy, diplomats said.
Craft will face a variety of challenges, including championing U.S. efforts to contain Iran’s influence in the Middle East and ensuring the global body maintains tough sanctions on North Korea as Washington tries to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
The United States has also gone to the United Nations in recent weeks to seek international recognition of opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president over socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.
Craft was Trump’s second choice for the U.N. position. He had planned to nominate former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, but she withdrew her name from consideration last week for family reasons.
A person familiar with the matter told Reuters Nauert withdrew from consideration because she had a nanny who was in the United States legally but did not have the proper work visa. Nauert did not comment.
Having been confirmed by the Senate for the Canada post, Craft should have a smoother confirmation path and less problems with vetting, the source said.
Trump had also considered other candidates including U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and Republican John James, who lost a bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Michigan last November.
Former senior White House aide Dina Powell was also on Trump’s radar, but she was believed to be disinterested in the position after she returned to Goldman Sachs Group a year ago.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)