Incoming U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft took up her job on Thursday, issuing a terse statement in which she praised both the U.N. secretary-general and her boss while declining to take questions from reporters.
Craft, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Canada, spoke briefly to reporters at a press stakeout webcast live from U.N. headquarters at New York. She called U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres a wise leader and expressed “extraordinary gratitude for the bold leadership” of U.S. President Donald Trump, who put her in the job.
Craft delivered a statement at her first U.N. Security Council meeting on the Central African Republic. She succeeds Nikki Haley, who left the post nine months earlier. The U.S. Senate in late July confirmed Kraft for the job along party lines in a 56-34 vote; just five Senate Democrats backed her confirmation. By contrast, the 100-member Senate in January 2017 overwhelmingly confirmed Haley in 96-4 vote.
As a longtime Republican activist, Craft has leveraged her influence, connections and wealth, including that of her billionaire husband, Joseph Craft III, the longtime CEO of the publicly traded coal giant Alliance Resource Partners, the second largest coal producer in the eastern United States.
The Crafts are the largest coal donors to Trump from their native Kentucky, which employs over 6,000 miners. The couple have reported more than US$63 million in energy assets mainly from coal, oil and gas, the largest fossil fuel-burning sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2017, she was quoted by Canada’s publicly owned CBC News as saying that she believed in “both sides of the science” behind climate change. The Crafts also have close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who recommended her for the job of U.N. envoy.
During her Senate confirmation hearing in June, however, Craft promised to recuse herself from U.N. discussions related to coal and not to stand in the way of diplomatic efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
She also came under fire when Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the most senior non-Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, disclosed records showing that she was absent from her post in Canada for more than 300 days between October 2017 and June 2019.
But she has since modified her public comments on climate change, seemingly putting herself at odds with the Trump administration’s stance. “Let there be no doubt: I take this matter seriously, and if confirmed, I will be an advocate for all countries to do their part in addressing climate change,” she told the hearing.
Guterres has repeatedly prodded nations to act faster and more decisively to combat what he calls the world’s “path of suicidal emissions” from fossil fuel burning. He is hosting a 2019 Climate Action Summit on September 23 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly’s annual high-level meetings in New York.
Ambassador Kelly Craft has officially departed her post in Ottawa. Follow Ambassador Craft at @USAmbUN to stay up to date on how @USUN is working to make the United Nations more efficient, results-driven, and accountable. pic.twitter.com/E80QVGJTfC
— U.S. Embassy Ottawa (@usembassyottawa) September 12, 2019
The world’s top stage for multilateralism
As the top financial contributor to the United Nations, the United States pays about 22 percent of the world body’s operating costs and a quarter of its peacekeeping operations. Craft pledged to work dutifully to advance what she called the “noble mission” of the United Nations, “an institution that is fundamentally committed to the realization of human rights and human freedom around the world.”
“Earlier this morning, I presented my credentials to Secretary-General Guterres, a man who is a very wise and visionary steward of this global body,” she said, reading aloud from a prepared statement. “I am so very grateful to him for his insightful leadership, and eagerly anticipate working with him to bring a freer, more prosperous world for all people.
Trump’s penchant for hiring and firing Cabinet officials and aides, often through tweets, has led to frequent turnover and tumult in his administration. Craft signaled she expects to have Trump’s continued backing.
“It is a profound personal honor to hold the President’s confidence, and this is a confidence I will seek to maintain and grow as I continue to convey the reinvigorated policies of this administration to the Security Council, and to the U.N. as a whole,” she said.
Trump’s attacks on multilateralism and withdrawal from international organizations and treaties, including the Paris Agreement on climate change, U.N. Human Rights Council, UNESCO and Iranian nuclear deal, has compromised American leadership towards post-World War II institutions.
Craft insisted she could help fill America’s leadership role in the world.
“I come to the United Nations not only as the President’s emissary, but also as the voice of America’s unwavering commitment to democracy, freedom, human rights, and, whenever possible, the peaceful resolution of conflicts,” she said. “In a world marked by humanitarian crises and geopolitical challenges, strong American leadership is absolutely critical, and I intend to provide it.”
Nonetheless, she said she would “defend America’s values and interests,” a phrase in keeping with Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy agenda. Aside from her post in Canada, where she helped negotiate trade deals, Craft was part of a U.S. delegation to the U.N. under then-U.S. President George W. Bush in 2007.
“I will stand by our friends and allies,” she promised. “I will advocate for the poor and the weak. And I will never fail to work with those who genuinely wish to advance the cause of human dignity.”