Trump’s nominee for UN ambassador publicly contradicts his stance on climate change

‘Human behaviour has contributed to the change in climate, let there be no doubt’

Karoun Demirjian
Thursday 20 June 2019 10:30
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Donald Trump's nominee for UN ambassador Kelly Craft publicly contradicts his stance on climate change

President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as the next ambassador to the United Nations publicly broke with him on climate change on Wednesday, stating at her Senate confirmation hearing that she believes fossil fuels and human behaviour contribute to the planet’s shifting weather phenomena – but stopping short of endorsing a return to international pacts like the Paris Climate Agreement.

Kelly Knight Craft, currently the US ambassador to Canada, stressed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “human behaviour has contributed to the change in climate, let there be no doubt”.

“I also understand that fossil fuels have played a part in climate change,” she later added.

But Ms Craft rejected urging the United States to make a return to the Paris agreement, warning that such pacts could “imperil” American jobs.

“We don’t feel like we have to be part of an agreement to be leaders,” she told senators, also arguing that the United States’s withdrawal from the agreement was legitimate because “we expected other countries to step up and while they did commit, they really were not serious”.

Democrats had voiced serious concerns about how Ms Craft would address climate change, due to her family’s investments – totalling tens of millions of dollars – in the fossil fuel industry.

Ms Craft pledged to the panel on Wednesday that she would recuse herself from any negotiations or meetings related to coal and potentially fossil fuels, promising to follow whatever ethics guidance she was given on oil and gas matters as well.

“Where coal is part of the conversation within climate change at the UN, I will recuse myself,” Ms Craft told Senator Edward Markey during the hearing.

“If our ethics agreement called for me to recuse myself, absolutely, I will be in full compliance, I give you my word,” she said.

Ms Craft’s nomination comes as Democrats are increasingly concerned by President Trump’s approach to the global community, in particular his embrace of totalitarian leaders and his lack of attention to human rights matters traditionally prioritised by the US government.

Ms Craft pledged to senators that if confirmed, she would focus on promoting the value of humanitarian aid and “miss no opportunity” to use the United States’ seat on the UN Security Council to hold adversary nations like China and Russia to account for human rights violations.

She also spoke of her responsibility as UN ambassador to advocate for the oppressed and persecuted, noting the civil wars in Yemen and Syria, the economic crisis in Venezuela, and the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

But Ms Craft refused to cross President Trump on specific policy positions, including the administration’s decision to reduce its payment to the international organisation and pull out of key bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Council.

“[The UN’s] ambitions at times have got ahead of accountability. Waste and overlap remain problems,” Ms Craft said, arguing that the Trump administration had had “many recent successes at the UN” that she was “eager to build on”.

In one particularly tense exchange with Senator Lindsey Graham, who is close to the president but opposed to his cuts in humanitarian aid, Ms Craft argued that it was the responsibility of other nations to fill the budget shortfalls created by the United States pulling back its support – an argument that echoes Trump talking points on other alliances, such as defence cooperation with NATO.

“We are asking for people to step up and share this burden,” Ms Craft told Senator Graham, when he asked her about the president’s budget.

“Is the world safe enough for us to step down?” Mr Graham asked.

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“No sir, we are leaders within the United Nations and we are leaders around the world,” Ms Craft answered, prompting Mr Graham to retort: “Let’s show it.”

Otherwise, Republicans and Democrats made very different demands of Ms Craft and the approach she should take to other UN members, if confirmed.

“It is important that the US continue to pressure the United Nations to spend its money efficiently and effectively,” panel chairman Senator James Risch said, endorsing the Trump administration’s approach.

“While the United States benefits from being a member of the UN, the United Nations benefits more, much more, from the United States being a member.”

The committee’s top Democrat, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, stressed that Ms Craft would need to commit to “reforming and strengthening the United Nations, not irreparably damaging it”.

“I have deep reservations about your lack of qualifications for such a complex and challenging role,” Mr Menendez said.

Several Democrats raised questions about whether Ms Craft would be dedicated enough to her job, pointing out that she spent the majority of her nearly two-year tenure as ambassador to Canada away from her duty post in Ottawa.

Mr Menendez called her time away from the capital “staggering...very troubling and an abdication of leadership.”

But Ms Craft argued that all of her trips had been “pre-approved before travel,” and that she had spent time on the road because she was involved in negotiating a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

“I was not going to let this country down, nor Ambassador Lighthizer nor the president,” she said, arguing that her duties included many trips to Washington, DC for negotiations and around Canada to promote the agreement.

She was referring to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. “This was not a time to socialise, this was really a time to work,” Ms Craft said.

Several Republican senators leapt to her defence.

“You prioritised the top priority of this administration,” Senator Marco Rubio said.

Ms Craft also promised to “support the president’s vision for peace and security” in the Middle East – but when asked directly by Senator Christopher Coons if Mr Trump’s vision for the Middle East included a two-state solution for Israel and Palestinian territories, she demurred.

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“I have not been part of the Middle East peace process,” she said.

“But if confirmed, I will tell you there will be no stronger friend than Kelly Craft and the United States for Israel and no stronger person to promote Israel in normalising themselves in the system.”

But in a potential departure from President Trump, Ms Craft pledged to respect the findings of a UN investigation into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post.

On Wednesday, special UN investigator Agnes Callamard released a 101-page report into the killing, calling for further investigation of Saudi officials including the country’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

“We know there is an investigation and we will follow this investigation where it takes us,” Ms Craft told senators.

President Trump has continued to embrace Saudi officials and said he accepts the royal family’s denials of culpability – infuriating members of both parties.

“He did it,” Mr Graham, one of the biggest Republican critics of President Trump’s approach to Saudi Arabia, said to Ms Craft of the Saudi crown prince’s role in Mr Khashoggi’s murder.

“Wouldn’t have happened without him, he knew it was going to happen, he wanted it to happen he caused it to happen, and this is just the tip of the iceberg of other things going on in this kingdom.”

“After this report’s issued I want you to let the committee know, do you believe he did it,” Senator Graham challenged Ms Craft.

Washington Post

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