"I'm happy in New York," Haley said
Haley stated she would not take the secretary of state job if offered
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Friday she has no interest in moving to Washington amid rumors of a shake-up in the Trump administration and uncertainty over the future of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In an exclusive television interview with CNN while Haley stopped in the Democratic Republic of Congo for talks on Friday, the former South Carolina governor turned key diplomat made clear she did not want to address whispers about a potential Cabinet shakeup or the widening rift in her own party as she finds her feet on the world stage.
“I’m happy in New York,” Haley said.
Asked if President Donald Trump were to offer her the secretary of state role should Tillerson leave, Haley said it was not going to happen and asserted she would not take the job.
“I would not take it,” Haley said. “I want to be where I’m most effective,”
She offered little on her relationship with Tillerson, saying, “I see him at meetings just like I see everyone else.”
“This whole team, we work hard,” Haley said.
Haley previously told CNN that she was under consideration for secretary of state, saying she interviewed for the job but took herself out of the running.
In Friday’s interview, Haley also defended the President at length as Trump faces increasing criticism from his own party, with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker saying this week Trump is “breaking down” US relations around the world.
“This is what Republicans do,” Haley said. “They debate each other”
Haley cited her time as Republican governor of South Carolina, likening the state GOP’s disagreements to the disputes Trump faced on the national level.
In the interview, Haley said she spoke with Trump privately in the wake of racially charged violence in Charlottesville this past August, when Trump equated violence from both white supremacists and those protesting them.
Haley, during her time as governor, responded to a mass shooting at a historically black church by ordering the Confederate flag to come down from the state Capitol.
Haley said Trump was not the divisive leader many perceive, instead portraying him as compassionate and not “given the benefit of the doubt.”
“The second he says something, he’s criticized for it,” Haley said.
Haley also addressed the ongoing national conversation about sexual harassment, praising those who are speaking out and calling for accountability.
“I’ve always said the United States isn’t perfect,” Haley said. “We have to also try and improve.”
US involvement in Africa
Haley’s trip comes as the US military’s role in Africa has come under a heightened degree of scrutiny.
The death of four US soldiers in Niger this month has raised new questions about the US role there and the ever-widening reach of the war on terror. Amid growing questions about what went wrong during the deadly mission, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said the US had forces in “about 53 different countries” in Africa.
Haley drew a parallel to the Middle East, saying the US strategy was to combat extremism abroad so it would not pose a direct threat back home.
“We want to deal with the situation there so we don’t have to deal with it in the United States,” Haley said. “It is the same thing for Africa. We have to deal with the situation here on the ground, so that we’re not dealing with it in the United States.”
She said African leaders needed to “take care” of their people and establish democratic societies or risk fostering conflict and extremism. She said when extremism crops up, “the United States will have to deal with it.”
Despite the sprawling military missions, Haley declined to call for a new authorization of military force, saying US forces in Africa are in “supporting roles.”
Haley spoke about the dire human rights situation in many African nations and said they had to make sure better education is provided to stop “the route of extremism.”
“The girls grow up to be teenagers and are raped,” Haley said. “The boys grow up and are abducted and they become child soldiers. Those are the future leaders of these countries.”
She called for an international response, however, not a unilateral one.
Haley likewise stayed firm on the US position restricting the admission of refugees, saying she wanted to ensure quality of life in host countries and work to resolve conflicts so people can return home.
“No one – no one – should live the way these people live,” Haley said.
‘Not done’ in Syria
Haley said the US would continue to play a role in Syria after the fall of ISIS.
“We’re not done,” she said.
And months after Trump ordered a strike on Syrian airfields in response to what the US said were chemical attacks ordered by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Haley maintained that Assad’s days in power were numbered.
“It’s not that we are going to push Assad out,” Haley said. “But we’re not going to let chemical weapons happen. We’re not going to let Iran take over. We’re not going to allow any of those things to happen.”
She knocked Russia for its role supporting Assad, and to underline her position, she cited a recent UN report saying Assad’s forces were behind the sarin attack earlier this year.
“Russia is now joining hands with Assad, saying chemical weapons are fine,” Haley said.
Haley reiterated her position on Russia more generally, saying the US would work with Russia where it could and push back on them where it saw destabilizing behavior or aggression. She warned in particular about election meddling, which the US intelligence community accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering.
“You can’t do that,” Haley said. “We’re not going to allow it to happen.”
Iran and North Korea
Haley echoed the administration’s tough rhetoric on Iran, saying the US would push back against Iranian attempts to control Syria and seek to prevent it testing ballistic missiles.
She said the international community did not accept North Korea testing long-range missiles potentially capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and that Iran should be held to the same standard.
“Why are you allowing Iran to get a pass?” Haley asked.
Haley went on to predict diplomatic efforts would soon have North Korea feeling significantly more pressure over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
She said North Korea was “starting to” feel the effects of increased sanctions and soon it would be forced to at least consider changing its path.
“Just imagine 90% of your trade cut off, 30% of your oil cut off,” Haley said. “There’s no way they don’t feel this, and there’s no way they don’t have a decision to make.”
Haley said Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to the peninsula showed the US was “prepared for everything,” but insisted the US did not want a war.
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the nature of Haley’s discussions about being considered for secretary of state.