Kelley Currie, an ambassador who represents the United States on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and is the alternate representative of the US to the General Assembly, is leaving her post at the US mission to the UN in New York, she told people at a reception on Jan. 31, 2019.
Currie’s departure leaves the US mission without a No. 2 working with the acting ambassador, Jonathan Cohen, a Foreign Service officer. Nikki Haley, the top ambassador of the US to the UN, left the job on Dec. 31, 2018. She had virtually stopped attending Security Council meetings after she announced her departure on Oct. 9.
The press offices of the State Department and the White House did not provide more information on where Currie is working next.
In early December, President Trump nominated Heather Nauert, the State Department’s chief spokesperson, to succeed Haley. But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which holds the confirmation hearing to approve Nauert’s nomination, has not heard from the White House on the matter.
The lack of a full-fledged ambassador leading the US mission suggests the position is low priority for Trump, who has been embroiled in the recent government shutdown he instigated because of his obsession over building a wall on America’s southern border. The White House may also be more focused on the Senate confirmation of William Barr as nominee for attorney general, given that the Mueller investigation is still hanging over Trump. (The Senate Judicial Committee vote on Barr has been delayed.)
Trump is also striving to pack as many federal district courts as possible, of which some will likely challenge his plan to declare a national emergency for a noncrisis — building the wall.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo attended a US-led meeting in the UN Security Council on Jan. 26 regarding Venezuela, so he, too, may consider having a formal US ambassador at the UN as unimportant if he can trek to New York as needed and garner the media’s attention for himself.
The White House has not sent the paperwork on Nauert to the Senate Committee, even though Trump has had almost four months to fill the ambassadorship, since Haley’s resignation.
One permanent member of the Security Council told PassBlue that the White House may be too chaotic right now to get the nomination procedure rolling. The ambassador, who was speaking on background, didn’t think that the US lacking a top ambassador was a problem. The US is a veto-wielding power with Britain, China, France and Russia.
Stephen Schlesinger, a fellow at the Century Foundation and author of “Act of Creation,” a book about the founding of the UN, said the situation at the US mission reflects serious problems.
“I think the way the Trump Administration is handling the UN at this time borders on right-wing delinquency,” Schlesinger said in an email. “First, Trump nominates a totally unqualified individual to be our next UN envoy — Heather Nauert. Her only preparedness for this job — the second most important foreign policy position in our government — is that she once read pre-written statements and talking points at State Department briefings for the press; and, given his misogynist views, was considered an attractive-looking broadcaster on Fox TV, an accomplishment Trump apparently believes is tantamount to high intelligence.
“Second, the long delay in her appointment, exacerbated now by the departure of Kelley Currie, also shows an essential disrespect, even contempt, that the Trump Administration has for the UN — which started in 2017 with his aim to cut US funding by 30%, followed by other threats.”
Under this administration, Schlesinger added: “Washington does not regard the organization with any great priority. This seems to be a Republican thing — George W. Bush did not even appoint his UN envoy until 9 months into his first term.
“Third, the dragging feet posture reveals what Trump’s American First policy is really all about — domestic politics. Namely, you use the UN when you need it for political reasons at home, but otherwise you toss it aside. Most recently, this was illustrated by our new Secretary of State, Pompeo, who has otherwise paid scant attention to the UN, suddenly showing up at the UN Security Council [Jan. 26] to denounce the Venezuelan regime and then disappearing. For Trump, in other words, the UN remains a useful tool or scapegoat as political conditions require.
“So today, the question remains — who will speak for the administration in the coming weeks with any authority, probably some unknown third-level diplomat. How does that give the US any weight in UN deliberations?”
A nongovernmental human-rights expert who works in New York and attended the Currie reception said that a vacancy at the top of the US mission was not unprecedented, with a deputy ambassador in charge for a while, noting that it has happened in the past, including under the Obama administration.
At the UN, Currie specialized in political reform, development and humanitarian assistance, human rights and other “nontraditional security issues” in the Asia-Pacific region, her State Department biography says. She told the gathering of diplomats and civil society members on Jan. 31 that she would keep the concerns of “all of you here” in mind in her new post, not elaborating.
This article was updated on Feb. 18, 2019.
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.