Politics & Government

Nikki Haley can expect these 4 fights as Trump's U.N. ambassador

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will be President-elect Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, a body that stands in stark contrast to many of Trump’s stated foreign policies.

Haley, who spoke out frequently against Trump during his campaign, has no foreign policy experience. She is the child of Indian immigrants and rejected Trump’s suggested ban of Muslims entering the U.S., calling it “un-American.” Although she supported Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in the primaries, Haley calls Trump “a friend” and met with him last week to discuss a possible place in his administration.

Trump has proposed shrinking the American role in the NATO alliance and similarly reducing the U.S. role in the U.N., where the Americans are one of five countries with a permanent seat on the Security Council. “Same thing, smaller numbers,” Trump said on the campaign trail of his U.N. policy.

Although Trump’s views may continue to evolve on some foreign policy topics, there are a few issues Haley will have to deal with in representing the U.S. in the U.N.

Iran deal

Trump has vowed to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, reached in 2015 between that country and the U.S. and the other permanent Security Council members (China, France, Russia and the U.K.) plus Germany.

As governor, Haley came out against the controversial deal, slammed by many Republicans as allowing the Iranians too much leeway and giving up too much American leverage in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S. lifted sanctions that now allow Iran access to markets, like the airline industry, but has not lifted other non-nuclear related sanctions that still prevent Iran from using dollars, which effectively bans them from participating in much of the world’s financial system.

The U.N. has urged all the agreement’s negotiators to continue honoring it, something all other parties have signaled they intend to do.

Proponents of the deal say scrapping it will play right into the hands of Iranian hardliners, whose interests are better served with a more isolated Islamic Republic. The deal was pushed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on a more open relationship with the West, but hardliners who control large sections of Iranian industry stand to benefit economically in a closed market.


Trump wants to end Muslim migration to the U.S. until terrorist threats are addressed, banning refugees fleeing violence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. This policy directly violates international law, which stipulates that other countries have an obligation to take in people seeking refuge from persecution in their home country and cannot bar refugees based on origin.

Although Haley opposes Trump’s outright Muslim ban, she was among 30 governors who demanded Syrian refugees not be resettled in their states, citing security concerns. A spokeswoman for the governor said last year that until refugees can be properly vetted “it’s not appropriate for them to be sent to South Carolina or any other state.”

Refugees are not allowed into the country until they pass a series of background and health checks, a process that can take up to two years. Governors can’t legally stop refugees from being resettled in their states.

Incoming U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is likely to resist any American efforts to dismantle refugee programs. He formerly served as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and is a strong advocate for wealthy countries doing their fair share to help the most vulnerable. He will take office Jan. 1.

Human rights

Trump has also expressed a desire to bring back waterboarding as a U.N. interrogation tool, which directly stands in violation of the international convention on torture.

The U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights has already warned his staff that they will have to fight any attempts from a Trump administration to bend current human rights norms. Diplomats told Foreign Policy that Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein had told them that if the U.S. starts to violate human rights, other countries will think that gives them a free pass.

In a Tuesday interview with the New York Times, Trump did signal his position on torture may be changing. He said one of his advisers convinced him torture practices are not effective in obtaining intelligence.

Middle East peace

One of the most vexing issues for the U.N. continues to be the deadlock in any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. and Israel regularly decry U.N. treatment of Israel, saying the body unfairly targets that country in calling out human rights abuses against the Palestinians.

As governor, Haley has defended Israel and South Carolina became the first to outlaw anti-Israel boycotts. She signed a bill in 2015 that blocked state entities from doing business with any outlet that supported divesting from Israel.

Trump said Tuesday in the New York Times interview that his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, could help bring Middle East peace. The president-elect has also vowed to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its undivided capital. Such a move would draw ire from Arab member states.