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By Alex Johnson
Nikki Haley, who is leaving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the end of the year, told NBC’s “Today” that she got things done by using President Donald Trump’s “unpredictable” nature to her advantage.
“He would ratchet up the rhetoric, and then I’d go back to the ambassadors and say: ‘You know, he’s pretty upset. I can’t promise you what he’s going to do or not, but I can tell you if we do these sanctions, it will keep him from going too far,'” Haley said in an exclusive interview which aired Wednesday morning.
“I know all of it,” she said in response to a question about the president’s bombastic, sometimes false statements in public and on Twitter. “But I’m disciplined enough to know not to get into the drama.”
At the United Nations, “I was trying to get the job done,” she said. “And I got the job done by being truthful, but also by letting him be unpredictable and not showing our cards.”
On one of the more delicate diplomatic issues on her watch, Haley said the United States must be careful in confronting Saudi Arabia over the brutal killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Haley made it clear that she blamed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government for Khashoggi’s death, even as the president has said repeatedly that the United States has reached no final conclusion about the prince’s involvement.
“It was the Saudi government, and MBS is the head of the Saudi government,” Haley said Tuesday, referring to the prince by his initials. “So they are all responsible, and they don’t get a pass, not an individual, not the government — they don’t get a pass.”
At the same time, Haley stopped short of recommending giving Saudi Arabia anything more than stern talking-to, saying the Saudis were helping the United States defeat Houthi insurgents in Yemen, Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and “Iranian proxies” around the world.
“We do have to work with them in that case,” she said of the Saudis, adding: “I think we need to have a serious hard talk with the Saudis to let them know we won’t condone this. We won’t give you a pass. And don’t do this again.
“And then I think that the administrations have to talk about where we go from here. What I can tell you that’s so important is that the Saudis have been our partner in defeating and dealing with Iran. And that has been hugely important.”
Haley said that, in general, she was aware that some people believe that she and Trump aren’t always on the same page, but she said that’s only because “our styles are very different.”
“And, you know, I’ve always found that funny,” she said. “But the truth at the end of the day is I may be harder on some things or I may be tougher in some ways, but I’ve never strayed from where the president was or never strayed from where his policy wants to go.”
As for Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman whom Trump has said he will nominate to succeed Haley at the United Nations, Haley said that while “I want her to be successful,” only time will tell whether her appointment was a good one.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee whom Haley endorsed for president in 2016, has questioned Nauert’s qualifications for the sensitive post, asking whether she “has the detailed knowledge of foreign policy to be successful at the United Nations.”
But Haley noted, “a lot of people said that about me.”
“I think that we should give her the opportunity to prove to the American public what she can do,” she said. “I think that she has been working at the State Department on multiple issues for a long time.
“You know, time will tell how this works out, but I can tell you I’m going to support and help in her transition and her ability to move forward and be successful,” Haley said.