Haley talks Iran, Biden, presidential ambitions


It was the line of the night and a window into the thinking of a pro-Israel favorite. Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley received a rousing ovation last week at the Christians United for Israel Summit in Arlington, Va.

Speaking about the potential of a renewed Iran nuclear agreement, Haley told the crowd of more than 1,000 that “if this president signs any sort of deal, I’ll make you a promise: The next president will shred it on her first day in office.”

The italicized words were from an advance copy of her speech delivered to JNS, and they had their intended effect, along with a wink that Haley gave right afterwards. Spurred on by the applause, she ad-libbed: “Just saying, sometimes it takes a woman.”

Haley, who has dipped her toes in the presidential waters in recent months, clarified her plan in a one-on-one interview with JNS. She also discussed President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel; and whether the United Nations can be salvaged.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: In the aftermath of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, you said that human rights need to be a priority for the US and that it’s not a binary option, meaning it’s not only strategic national interest versus values. Do you still feel that way in regards to the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia?

A: It’s not what President Biden did, but how he did it. We should call out human-rights abuses whenever we see it. Something like Khashoggi, that was unnerving — we should call it out. But we also need to understand that all countries aren’t the same. I saw that at the United Nations. You got 193 countries — 193 countries with a different set of values. The goal is how we can come together on the things we agree on.

The one thing we can agree on with Saudi Arabia is that Iran is a threat to the region. Iran is a threat to America. We should always work with them. Treating Saudi Arabia like a pariah is short-sighted. The Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) is in his 30s. He’s going to outlive every leader in the world. We need to work with them.

So, the best thing is, when you see something wrong, say it, but also understand they need to be a partner because … they see the value in Israel, and they will be our No. 1 partner and when it comes to countering Iran. We need to make sure we keep them close.

Q: You mentioned in your speech the dissonance between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid that was on display with Biden saying the use of force with Iran is a last resort, and Lapid saying we’ve got to have a military deterrent. Where does that line get drawn, where diplomacy is seen as a dead end and it’s time to move on to a plan B?

A: To say something like “diplomacy” is the same way as saying a “minor incursion” when it comes to Russia. At the end of the day, the way you stop bad things from happening is strength. Make sure you tell your enemies this is what we expect of you, and if you don’t do it, you’re going to have a price to pay. You can’t deal with Iran on diplomacy. They’ve proven that to us many times over many decades. They deal with that one way, and that’s thuggery and terrorism, and we’re not going to put up with it. So, you can’t be diplomatic with Iran. You can be tough with Iran. That’s what we need to do. And if Israel feels like they need to take things into their own hands, we should support them. And if they do, frankly, the world will be better.

Q: Let’s talk about you for a moment and your personal political ambitions. You’ve been sending some not-so-subtle signs that you want to get into the presidential race. Are you ready to make a commitment? 

A: I’m not ready to make a commitment now. Right now, we’re focused on making sure we [the Republicans] win the midterms because the House, Senate and governors races matter in America. But what I can tell you is the first of next year, we’ll have to make a big decision. I’ve never lost a race, I’m not going to start now. If I do this, I’ll put 1,000 percent into it and will finish it. I think that our country has the ability to always be great, but we have to find that American spirit, that patriotism. We’ve got to go and show our friends that we love them, and we’ve got to show our enemies that they better fear us. And that’s what I think we would do if we went forward.