Trump Names State Department's Spokesperson Nauert as UN Ambassador

  • VOA News

    December 08, 2018 08:35

    U.S. President Donald Trump has announced he will nominate State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

    "She's [Nauert is] going to work with Nikki Haley to replace Nikki at the United Nations. She'll be ambassador to the United Nations," Trump told reporters at the White House early Friday. "She's very talented, very smart, very quick. And I think she's going to be respected by all."

    Haley announced in October she would be leaving the job by the end of the year.

    Nauert joined the State Department in April 2017 after a career in broadcast journalism, first serving under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and then under current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In addition to serving as spokesperson, Nauert also served as acting under secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from March to October of this year.

    She came to State from Fox News, where she co-anchored Fox and Friends, the morning program that Trump says he watches regularly. The president's other recent hires from Fox News include White House communications chief Bill Shine and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

    ◆ Diplomatic Experience

    If she accepts the position, Nauert could likely face tough questioning during her Senate confirmation hearings about her apparent lack of diplomatic or policymaking experience. But since Republicans will continue to hold a majority in the Senate when the new Congress convenes in January, she is likely to be confirmed.

    News agencies, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, said that the White House has decided to downgrade the UN ambassador to a non-cabinet level position. The move would likely mean the ambassador would report to the Secretary of State, not the president, reducing the position's policymaking power.

    When asked about the announcement Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told VOA, "I cannot make any comments before the Senate confirmation, but I am ready to work very effectively with any ambassador of the United States."

    Nauert is said to be close to both those in the White House and Pompeo, and has traveled extensively with the secretary, including to North Korea.

    The Wilson Center's Aaron David Miller says Nauert has a different profile from past U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations. "I think Heather Nauert is smart. She is a quick study. She will learn the brief. But, I think it [the U.S. ambassador job] is not going to be what it was under Nikki Haley, which was a serious competitor under a vacuum at the NSC [National Security Council] and at the State Department under Tillerson."

    Miller, who advised several secretaries of state under Republican and Democratic administrations, said Haley took advantage of the "empty space" created by media-averse Tillerson to stake out positions on a whole range of foreign policy issues, and that is not likely to be the case with Nauert.

    "Heather Nauert is not going to be a big-time player in the deliberations on substance in the administration," he said. "I doubt, on an issue like Syria, unless it pertains to the UN, that the president is going to call her up and say, 'What do you think?'"

    State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on Nov. 30, 2017. /AFP

    ◆ U.S. Position on World Stage

    Both Trump and Pompeo have been highly critical of the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, with Pompeo noting in a Brussels speech earlier this week that "multilateralism has become viewed as an end unto itself. The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done."

    Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer said Nauert has proven she has the ability to explain and defend U.S. foreign policy, the core requirement for being a U.S. ambassador to the world body. "She is obviously extremely knowledgeable and well-versed in the foreign policy of this administration and has answered questions and defended it in front of a number of different press inquiries," Schaefer said.

    Schaefer notes, though, that Trump already has a foreign policy team in place: Pompeo and Bolton. "Now in terms of formulating policy, I suspect that she is not going to play the role that Nikki Haley did as ambassador to the United Nations," Schaefer said. "Ambassador Haley was a far more high-level figure, particularly early in the administration."

    ◆ Russia, Israel, Myanmar

    During Nauert's twice weekly briefings at the State Department and her own trips, she has shown a passion for human rights issues. While serving with Tillerson, Nauert took trips on her own initiative, visiting Myanmar and Bangladesh last year to meet with Rohingya refugees. She also visited Israel, and has strongly defended Trump's controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

    Friday, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said he welcomed Nauert's nomination as U.S. ambassador. "Ms. Nauert has stood by the state of Israel in her previous positions, and I have no doubt that the cooperation between our two countries will continue to strengthen as ambassador to the UN," Dannon said in a statement.

    On other foreign policy issues, such as Russia, the State Department acting under secretary has sometimes struck a different tone than Trump, using fierce language to call out Moscow's "aggressive behavior." "The idea that Russia is calling for a so-called humanitarian corridor, I want to be clear, is a joke," she remarked during a briefing, when asked about Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Nauert is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and Mount Vernon College in Washington. The 48-year-old is a wife and mother of two young sons, and was born in Rockford, Illinois. 

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