UNITED NATIONS — Kelly Knight Craft arrived to take up her post at the United Nations on Thursday, offering praise for the institution, the secretary-general, and her boss, U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I cannot quite reach the words to describe the tremendous pride I feel standing before you as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,” Craft told reporters after her first U.N. Security Council meeting, where she cast votes supporting three resolutions. “This is an institution that is fundamentally committed to the realization of human rights and human freedom around the world, and I am so very pleased to be in New York working to advance that noble mission.”
Trump nominated Craft — his envoy to Canada — to the U.N. position in February after Nikki Haley resigned and former State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert was nominated but withdrew during the process. The senior diplomatic post has been empty for an unusually long nine months.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has cut back hundreds of millions of dollars of support to U.N. programs and peacekeeping missions. On Thursday, Craft looked to start on a positive footing with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“I presented my credentials to Secretary-General Guterres, a man who is a very wise and visionary steward of this global body,” she told reporters. “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.”
She also thanked Trump for his “bold leadership,” saying it is a “profound personal honor” to hold his confidence.
“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.”
Craft said she will defend America’s values and interests, stand by its friends and allies, and advocate for the poor and the weak.
Foreign policy experience
Craft was formerly a businesswoman from Kentucky. She and her husband, Joe, a billionaire coal executive, are well-known in Republican circles as major donors, having contributed to several senate campaigns and donating $1 million to Trump’s 2016 presidential run.
Trump appointed her as his ambassador to Canada. Her tenure was marked by negotiations for the new U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement.
The Senate confirmed Craft July 31 by a slim majority — 56 to 38. She faced scrutiny for what some Democrats said was her lack of foreign policy expertise, as she had served as U.S. ambassador in Canada for less than two years.
“Madam Ambassador, let me be frank. I have deep reservations about your lack of qualifications for such a complex and challenging role,” Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told her at her June 19 confirmation hearing. “Historically, U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. have brought significant executive experience or experience working directly in foreign policy.”
Menendez also reproached her for her extensive absences from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa — more than half of her 608 days on the job.
Craft was sworn in by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Sept. 10, according to the U.S. mission’s website.
Now, she will have little more than a week to settle in before the annual diplomatic convergence of world leaders at the United Nations.
International Crisis Group U.N. Director Richard Gowan said Craft won’t really have an opportunity to start making her mark until after the General Assembly.
“Her job is to make sure that the president’s trip to New York goes well,” he told VOA. “She won’t be doing substantive diplomacy herself. I think Craft will only really be able to make a personal impact in New York once the General Assembly is out of the way, and she can spend a bit more time building relations with other members of the Security Council and important powers at the U.N.”