Nikki Haley says U.S. can't trust Russia, must be cautious

WASHINGTON — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pledged Wednesday at her confirmation hearing to voice U.S. leadership in the world and stand up to Russia if approved as Donald Trump's ambassador to the United Nations.

"When America fails to lead, the world becomes a more dangerous place. And when the world becomes more dangerous, the American people become more vulnerable,” Haley told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When asked about Russia, Haley was unequivocal. "Russia is trying to show its muscle," she said. "We cannot trust them and need to continue to be cautious."

"We need to continue to be strong back, show what this administration will be," she said. "We are not OK with what happened in Ukraine and Crimea and what is happening in Syria. But we do need their help in ISIS," she said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked if Russia has any legitimacy in Ukraine's Crimea province, and whether she supports sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

Haley agreed that Crimea is part of Ukraine and not Russia. "We have to make that very clear to them," she said. "Russia has to make positive actions before we lift any sanctions on Russia."

Haley was also asked about Trump’s comments about NATO being obsolete, cooperating more with Russia and China being not helpful in dealing with North Korea.

“Any comments the president-elect has made are his comments,” Haley said. “We’re still going to need those countries. We need China’s help when it comes to North Korea. When we disagree with them, we should not be afraid to say we disagree with them. When we need to work with them, we need to work with them.”

Haley called the U.S. abstention last month on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel's settlement activity, "a terrible mistake" because it allowed the measure to pass without an American veto. "I will never abstain when the the United Nations takes any actions to counter the interests and values of the United States," she said.

Haley was pressed on Israel’s expansion of settlements, the key issue in the U.N. Security Council resolution that the U.S. allowed to pass in December. She said she supports the bipartisan policy that calls on Israel not to expand settlements in the West Bank on land Palestinians seek for a future state.

“I do understand how they (Palestinians) think they will hinder peace,” she said. But “we need to let the two parties decide those issues among themselves.” “For the U.N. to insert itself I believe is wrong,” she added.

Haley disagreed with Trump on several issues during her confirmation hearing.

She said she was against a blanket ban on Muslim immigration, and said “the president-elect corrected his position on that.” She also disagreed with a proposed U.S. Muslim registry, saying it would be unconstitutional.

She said she recognizes the importance of refugee programs, describing interpreters who helped ensure the safety of her husband’s National Guard unit while deployed to Afghanistan, who were granted asylum because their lives would have been at risk if they’d stayed in Afghanistan.

But asylum for refugees from Syria should be treated differently, she said.

“FBI Director (James) Comey told me we don’t have enough information to vet refugees from Syria,” Haley said. “That’s when I decided we cannot take refugees from Syria and ensure the security of the citizens of South Carolina.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Wis., asked Haley if she expects Trump’s views to change after two years of sending muddled messages and calling for drastic change in U.S. foreign policy. “That’s how an administration works,” she responded. “You surround yourself with people who don’t just say ‘yes.’ And what I know about the president-elect is he will listen.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., asked Haley if she supports backing out of the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration with Iran and five other world powers.

Haley said no. But her answer led to some dispute among senators.

“More beneficial at this point is to look at all the aspects of the Iran deal, are they in compliance?” she said. “We need to hold them accountable.”

Haley faulted the agreement as giving a state-sponsor of terrorism “a path” to a nuclear weapon, because many restrictions in the agreement lift after 10 years.

Kaine depicted Haley’s response as ill-informed, saying Iran agreed in the first paragraph of the agreement “to never obtaining a nuclear weapons program.” And many restrictions remain after 10 years, he said.

In fact, the agreement allows Iran to expand its nuclear program after a decade, with more numerous and more efficient fuel making technology that would make it easier for Iran to hide a secret weapons program if it chose to cheat, according to experts, such as the Institute for Science and International Security.

Sen. James E. Risch, R-Idaho, said Kane’s assessment of the Iran agreement “is 180 degrees at odds with reality.”

“Your characterization that we’re going to give hundreds of billions of dollars to them … is absolutely right,” Risch said.

The United States currently contributes 22% of the U.N. organization’s budget, and Haley questioned during the hearing whether such a large investment is worthwhile.

“We are a generous nation,” Haley said. “But we must ask ourselves what good is being accomplished by this disproportionate contribution. Are we getting what we pay for?”

When pressed further on cutting U.S. spending to the U.N., Haley admitted she did not believe in a "slash and burn" of the U.N. but instead would be reporting on whether certain U.N. programs are currently working.

Cardin told Haley earlier that while he is "concerned about your lack of foreign policy experience," he has been impressed by her actions as governor. "One area I was particularly impressed by your leadership as governor is your call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House," Cardin said.

Haley, 44, started out talking about her "American story," born to a middle-class family in India and growing up as an immigrant in South Carolina, where the color of her skin was "too dark to be considered white and too light to be considered black." Haley, backed by the Tea Party, made history in 2011 when she took office as the first female governor of South Carolina. She has served two terms as governor. Her husband Michael was deployed to Afghanistan's Helmand province in 2013 as a member of the Army National Guard.

© AP Photo/Evan Vucci UN Ambassador-designate, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Nikki Haley slams U.N. 'bias' against Israel in her Senate hearing

Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, used her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to attack the world body for what she called its bias against Israel, a position that put her in sync with most of Congress.

Haley said she “absolutely” supports President-elect Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Few countries have done so because Jerusalem is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom want it as their capital.

The two-term Republican governor of South Carolina — at 44 she is the nation’s youngest governor — acknowledged to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she lacks experience in international diplomacy, but argued her work in state government had prepared her for tough negotiations.

Trump has spoken harshly of the U.N., and Haley’s role may be secondary in an administration that has signaled plans to upend U.S. foreign policy in many parts of the globe.

As has now become common with Trump’s top aides, Haley appeared at times to break with the president-elect — and with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of State — when she repeatedly criticized Russia.

“We can’t trust them,” she said of authorities in Moscow. “The problem is there are no boundaries with Russia,” she added.

Haley said “we are not OK” with Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its military operations in Ukraine and its military intervention in support of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

“But we need their help in fighting ISIS,” another name for Islamic State, she said.

The Obama administration says Russian forces have attacked insurgent groups seeking to oust Assad but have provided no help to the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Asked about adding new sanctions against Russia, as many in Congress have demanded, Haley declined to advocate tougher measures without further consultation.

In contrast with Tillerson, Haley acknowledged that Russia committed “war crimes” in Syria by bombing civilian targets. And unlike Tillerson, she said U.S. policy toward Russia “came up” when she met with Trump.

In response to a question, she said she considered the extrajudicial killing of more than 6,000 alleged drug dealers in the Philippines to be a human rights abuse, saying she would speak against it.

“I’m prepared to speak up against anything that goes against American values,” Haley said. “We have always been the moral compass of the world.”

The questioning was triggered in part by Tillerson’s refusal at his confirmation hearing last week to condemn several governments with documented human rights abuses, including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, saying he needed more information.

Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, said she opposed a national registry of Muslim Americans, an idea that Trump floated last year during the presidential campaign.

Her focus on Israel in her opening remarks was not a surprise. As governor, she drew national notice when she signed into law a bill that blocked efforts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the first state law of its kind in the U.S.

Trump, and many members of Congress, harshly criticized President Obama’s decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution last month that condemned Israel’s continued settlement expansion in lands claimed by the Palestinians.

After the U.S. abstained, the measure passed 14 to 0. Most of the world views the settlements as illegal and a major obstacle to peace.

Haley was born Nimrata Randhawa in South Carolina, attended Clemson University and served in the state Legislature before she was elected governor in 2010. She was reelected in 2014 and cannot run for a third term.

Her parents, both professors, immigrated from Punjab, India, to South Carolina via Canada.

Haley was widely praised for her sensitive response to the mass murder of nine black members of a church in Charleston in 2015 by a self-described white racist, who was sentenced to death earlier this month.

As the state grieved, Haley led bipartisan calls for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol and its grounds, a symbolic move that helped heal some of the tensions.

During last year’s presidential primaries, she initially was critical of Trump, asking voters to resist “the siren call of the angriest voices.” She endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) before he withdrew.

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