Just days after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt met with President Trump in the White House, receiving an effusive reception, Trump nominated Jonathan R. Cohen, the acting permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations, as ambassador to Egypt.
Cohen, who has been a Foreign Service officer since 1986, is from Southern California and graduated from Princeton. He has been filling the seat of the permanent representative to the UN, which has been empty since Ambassador Nikki Haley resigned, since the start of the year.
Cohen’s departure could leave the US mission to the UN with no top ambassador to carry out business for the Trump administration in the UN Security Council and throughout the world body. Until this year, Cohen was deputy permanent representative since June 2018.
Trump announced in late February that he intended to nominate Kelly Knight Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, to succeed Haley. But Knight Craft’s nomination hasn’t been submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and no date has been confirmed by the White House to do so. Knight Craft is the second nominee for the UN post, after Heather Nauert, the chief spokesperson for the State Department, withdrew her nomination in mid-February.
Knight Craft is likely to win Senate confirmation if her nomination is sent, since she was approved for her Canadian post. Knight Craft and her husband, Joseph Craft III, contributed millions of dollars to the Republican Party in 2016, possibly influencing Trump’s decision to pick her for the UN job. She was also recommended by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, an old friend of the couple whose campaign has benefited along with Trump from their largess.
Nevertheless, Knight Craft’s Senate confirmation hearing could meet resistance by Democrats for her enormous investments in the coal industry, which she shares with her husband, a billionaire coal magnate. Her nomination presents a possible conflict of interest, given the UN’s strong focus on the deadly effects of climate change worldwide and links to conflicts, as well as the fact that the Paris Agreement on climate change is led by the UN. The Trump administration said it was reversing Obama’s decision to join the agreement by dropping out.
Cohen’s likely departure for Egypt means that the US mission to the UN might be operating with only one ambassador, Cherith Norman Chalet, unless Knight Craft’s nomination is expedited before Cohen leaves. Chalet was confirmed by the US Senate in September as the US ambassador for UN management and reform and alternative representative to the General Assembly. She led the US delegation to the annual global women’s rights conference at the UN, held in March.
Her delegation’s behavior during the negotiations on the conference’s final document was called “bonkers” by one diplomat, as the US tried, among other steps, to strip the document of references to the sexual reproductive and health rights of women and girls, claiming the language connoted abortion. Chalet is a Trump-nominated ambassador who is a graduate of Bob Jones University.
Another top diplomat at the US mission, Kelley Currie, left suddenly in February. Currie, an ambassador who represented the US in the UN’s Economic and Social Council, was the alternative representative of the US to the General Assembly. Currie was recently nominated by Trump to be global ambassador for women’s issues, filling a vacancy in the State Department office that has been empty since Trump became president. (In addition, Michelle Bekkering has been nominated by Trump to be an assistant administrator of Usaid. Bekkering was part of the US delegation at the UN women’s conference.)
Stephen Schlesinger, the author of “Act of Creation: the Founding of the United Nations,” wrote in an op-ed that with Washington facing so many crises abroad, what is going on with the US ambassadorship to the UN?
“The stop-and-go nature of the Trump government’s approach to the UN appointment is obviously unsettling,” Schlesinger wrote. “Remember, the UN post is the second-most important foreign policy office in our government. It is here where a president makes some of his most important international pronouncements, adopts or vetoes Security Council resolutions and sanctions and attempts to influence world opinion.”
Washington has been using its permanent seat on the Security Council as a place holder this year for VIPs like Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to swoop in, cameras clicking, to dispense stern warnings on such crises as Venezuela.
Pompeo attended a US-led meeting in the Security Council on Jan. 26, highlighting Venezuela’s political and humanitarian straits. He left the meeting as soon as he finished reading his speech, not staying to listen to remarks by Germany, France and Poland — all NATO allies — and other countries. Elliott Abrams, the US envoy for Venezuela, came twice to UN Security Council emergency meetings on Venezuela this year, speaking amicably with the media during his visit.
David Hale, an undersecretary of state, arrived from Washington to the Council in March to chastise the Mali prime minister, Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, for not getting his country to comply fully with its peace accord.
And on April 10, Vice President Pence made his big entrance to the Council — late and again on Venezuela — demanding in the tense chamber that UN member states must void the UN credentials of Ambassador Samuel Moncada of Venezuela, who was in the room. He, in turn, scoffed by saying the US had no right to the demand under international law. Pence ended his remarks in the Council by saying, “May God bless us all.”
As for Cohen, the White House announcement on April 11 about his nomination did not mention his current role at the UN. Instead, he was described as a “Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor.”
From 2016 until June 2018, he was deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, covering Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. Previously, he was deputy chief of mission in Baghdad from 2014-2016; acting deputy chief of mission in Paris from 2013 to 2014; and minister counselor for political affairs from 2011 to 2013, among other roles.
Cohen has a B.A. in politics and a certificate in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton. From 1985 to 1986, he attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem on an Israeli government grant. His hometown is Laguna Beach.
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.