Who Is Kelly Craft, The New U.S. Ambassador To The U.N.?

Sep 11, 2019
Originally published on September 11, 2019 7:03 pm

Kelly Craft is expected to take up her job as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. on Thursday. She's a Republican donor and is married to a billionaire coal executive. Craft is likely to take a much lower profile than her predecessor, Nikki Haley.

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President Trump's new ambassador to the United Nations arrives on the job in New York tomorrow, just weeks before world leaders gather for the U.N. General Assembly. The position has been empty for nine months after Nikki Haley resigned. The new ambassador, Kelly Craft, has a much lower profile than her predecessor, as we hear from NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When Haley, a former South Carolina governor, got to the U.N., she quickly put her stamp on the job.


NIKKI HALEY: For those that don't have our back, we're taking names.

KELEMEN: Unlike Haley, Ambassador Kelly Craft is not a politician and not a Cabinet member. She's kept such a low profile that Richard Gowan, who tracks the U.N. for the International Crisis Group, says U.N. diplomats don't really know what to expect.

RICHARD GOWAN: She has a reputation as a collegial diplomat from her time in Canada, but she admits she doesn't have much experience at the U.N. And it's not clear how powerful she is in Washington.

KELEMEN: Craft and her husband, billionaire coal mining executive Joe Craft, are Republican donors, including to President Trump and to Senator Mitch McConnell in their home state of Kentucky. She assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June that she will recuse herself from U.N. discussions about climate change, given her husband's background. Republican Mitt Romney described Craft as a friend who is hardworking and relentless.


MITT ROMNEY: And has great power over people, as evidenced by the fact that her husband has been sitting there without moving for a long, long time. I've never seen Joe Craft sit in one place so long and so uncomfortably, I might add. I appreciate the service, also, that...

KELLY CRAFT: I may have to ask for a ride home after this. So if anyone, you know, can offer me a ride after climate change...

KELEMEN: She did face tough questions about climate change at that hearing, but she was also offered a chance to speak about her priorities.


CRAFT: We have so many crises in Venezuela, in Yemen, in Syria. And it's so important that we look after our human rights issues because then that, in turn, is going to be humanitarian issues. So in my opinion, I look at every issue when it involves an innocent civilian as a crises.

KELEMEN: It makes sense to focus on humanitarian matters where she can have more sway, says Gowan. But he worries that Craft doesn't have the resume of past U.N. ambassadors.

GOWAN: It's very unusual to have a donor in this role, and many observers think that Trump is treating this as a political reward rather than a serious job. But at the end of the day, it's Kelly Craft who will be representing the U.S. in the Security Council and will be facing down criticisms of U.S. policy from China and Russia. So this is not an easy ride.

KELEMEN: Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee describe Craft as a diplomatic novice who was absent from her post in Canada for more than half of her tenure. She was in Ottawa August 22, accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and earning praise from Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.


CHRYSTIA FREELAND: And today is her last day in Canada. So thank you for giving us such a great ambassador, and thank you very much, Kelly, for your hard work here. We've really appreciated it.

KELEMEN: At the embassy that day, as Pompeo mingled with employees, Craft posed for pictures with her staff and their children, telling them it's bittersweet to be leaving.


CRAFT: Thank you. It's very bittersweet, I must tell you.


CRAFT: Thank you. Thank you. Lots of prayers. Thank you.


KELEMEN: Craft is due to give her credentials to the U.N. secretary general tomorrow.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.