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article imageNikki Haley: from South Carolina state house to UN and now...?

By Susan STUMME (AFP)     Oct 9, 2018 in Politics

Nikki Haley, who has resigned as President Donald Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, was a virtual unknown on the national and international stage when she joined the cabinet.

After nearly two years as one of America's top voices on foreign policy, the 46-year-old South Carolina native will leave at year's end with a strong global profile -- and a reputation for standing up to the mercurial Trump.

With speculation already building about her political future, she quickly denied any plans to challenge her boss in 2020, instead saying in the Oval Office on Tuesday it was "time to stand aside."

"I don't have anything set on where I want to go," Haley said, with the president at her side.

But wanting a break from the punishing Trump news cycle would surely be understandable.

During her time at the United Nations, Haley -- a fellow Republican who previously served as South Carolina's governor -- was unafraid to speak her mind, often in fairly undiplomatic language.

She was the face of the White House to the world on everything from North Korean denuclearization to the war in Syria.

And the daughter of Indian immigrants, who was raised as a Sikh but identifies as Christian, was the face of diversity in a cabinet criticized for being too white.

- Outsider perspective -

Haley was not exactly on the Trump train from the get-go -- she endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio during the Republican primary race in 2016 before backing Senator Ted Cruz.

Indeed, she called the brash Manhattan property baron "everything a governor doesn't want in a president," and just weeks before the election, she admitted she was "not a fan" of the candidate.

Haley was a strong voice for US foreign policy at the United Nations
Haley was a strong voice for US foreign policy at the United Nations
DOMINICK REUTER, AFP/File

So understandably, eyebrows were raised when Trump chose Haley -- who had little foreign policy experience -- as Washington's voice at the United Nations.

But, as she said herself, she had a track record in shaking up staid, traditional government bodies -- a quality that surely appealed to Trump.

"Institutions always benefit from an outsider's perspective," she told the Council on Foreign Relations think tank last year.

"In South Carolina, I was the first minority governor and -- a real shock to the state -- the first girl governor as well."

Born in 1972 in Bamberg, South Carolina, Nimrata "Nikki" Randhawa rose quickly in the southern state's politics, serving in its House of Representatives from 2005 to 2011 when she was elected governor.

She was reportedly considered as a possible vice presidential pick by 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Her conservative views and plainspoken but warm style were popular in her home state.

She then won national attention in 2015 by supporting the removal of the Confederate flag from the state house after a white gunman opened fire at a black church, killing nine parishioners.

Haley is married to Michael Haley, an officer in the South Carolina National Guard and has two children.

- 'I don't get confused' -

In recent months  her star had faded a bit  with brash new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) taking...
In recent months, her star had faded a bit, with brash new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) taking over as Trump's chief spokesman on foreign policy
Don EMMERT, AFP/File

At the United Nations, she found her voice, quickly outshining the secretary of state at the time, Rex Tillerson.

She was a fierce defender of Israel, and also a ferocious critic of Russia -- even more so than her boss.

And when a White House aide suggested in April this year that "confusion" had led her to mistakenly announce fresh sanctions on Russia, she quickly fired back.

"With all due respect, I don't get confused," Haley said.

She wanted to see what was happening on the ground, traveling to Israel, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Latin America.

In recent months, her star had faded a bit, with Tillerson replaced by the brash Mike Pompeo and John Bolton taking over as national security advisor.

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