US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is stepping down from her role at the end of the year, in a shock move that she announced on Tuesday at the White House with President Donald Trump at her side.
The two, who have clashed at times, heaped praise on each other in front of the media, with Trump calling her “my friend” and hailing her performance and Haley saying it had been “an honour of a lifetime” to serve as ambassador.
“We will name a successor, I don’t know, in the next two to three weeks,” Trump said, saying there were “many people” interested in the key post.
“She’s made it a very glamorous position. She’s made it, more importantly, a more important position,” Trump said of the job.
Trump, several hours later, noted that he thought his daughter Ivanka Trump “would be dynamite, but you know I’d then be accused of nepotism.”
Ivanka Trump took to Twitter to say she would not be replacing Haley.
“It is an honor to serve in the White House alongside so many great colleagues and I know that the President will nominate a formidable replacement for Ambassador Haley. That replacement will not be me,” Ivanka Trump tweeted.
The US president also noted that the name of Dina Powell, a former Goldman Sachs executive and former advisor at the White House, was being floated.
Another name mentioned in press reports as a possible successor was US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell.
Both Haley and Trump insisted the United States had regained respect in the past two years since the president took office.
“Look at what has happened in two years with the United States on foreign policy. Now, the United States is respected,” Haley said at the White House alongside Trump. “Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do.”
Explaining her reason for stepping down, Haley insisted she was not looking towards a run for the presidency against Trump in 2020 but would campaign for him.
“It is just very important for government officials to understand when it is time to step aside,” she said. “Sometimes it is good to rotate in other people who can put the same energy and power into it.”
Haley is a conservative and a Republican Party loyalist, though she had backed another candidate in 2016 in the party’s primary before ultimately getting on board with Trump.
The former governor of South Carolina is seen as a qualified, reasonable and strong-willed diplomat who has, at times, gone beyond the stated policies of the president, most notably over sanctions on Russia.
She has led on key issues for the administration, including cutting the UN budget and working on reforms at the organization, as well as pushing a hard pro-Israel line and the tough stance on Iran.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has a “deep appreciation” for Haley’s work at the body, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
Despite policy differences between the US and UN, Haley has maintained a “strong and engaged dialogue,” Dujarric said.
“Haley has been tough on the UN in public, but relatively pragmatic with other diplomats in private, except on some hot-button issues like Iran,” Richard Gowan, a fellow at UN University, told dpa.
Haley also ruffled feathers at the United Nations with her defence of the Trump administration’s staunch pro-Israel stance, which saw the US pull out of UN institutions UNESCO and the Human Rights Council amid claims of anti-Israel bias.
Several of Haley’s UN Security Council colleagues praised her as they reacted to the news.
Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia, who she has had fiery debates with her in the chamber, said Haley was a “friend to all of us” and that he was sure this won’t be the last we hear of Haley.
“She’s young, she’s energetic, she’s ambitious. I’m sure we’ll see her after this well-deserved respite,” Nebenzia said.
Haley leaving is seen as a loss for the White House, which has a relatively high turnover rate. Trump admitted as much.
“We are all happy for you in one way but we hate to lose you,” Trump said. “Hopefully you’ll be coming back at some point.”