Nikki Haley says Trump Mideast peace plan is nearly finished

CHICAGO — The Trump administration is nearly finished drafting its Mideast peace proposal and will release it soon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Thursday.

“I think they’re finishing it up,” Haley said during a question-and-answer session at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.

Haley added that U.S. negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt are “still going back and forth,” and she gave no more specific timeline.

“They’re coming up with a plan. It won’t be loved by either side, and it won’t be hated by either side,” Haley said.

Haley’s remark appeared to confirm that the administration still plans to move soon to roll out a plan that has been sidelined and in doubt since President Trump broke decades’ of U.S. precedent by declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.

The administration has not said when it plans to reveal its ideas for negotiations and an eventual settlement, but it had been widely expected to do so early this year. Palestinian leaders have said the Jerusalem decision means the United States can no longer be an honest broker.

Institute Director David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, pressed Haley on whether the United States would propose an independent Palestinian state, which had been U.S. policy for more than two decades before Trump’s election.

“It’s for them to decide,” Haley said of Israel and the Palestinians. She added that “it is hard for me to see how they would want” a single state and added that she thinks “they are pushing toward a two-state” outcome.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor and a rare minority in the Trump administration, was asked how she squares her parents’ immigrant experience with Trump’s attempts to curb illegal and legal immigration.

“My parents would be the first to tell you they came to this country legally,” Haley said of her parents’ immigration from India. “They did it the right way.”

Haley got somewhat tangled in her response, focusing on illegal immigration and appearing unaware of the extent of Trump’s efforts to curb legal immigration, including an insistence on “ending chain migration.”

Axelrod asked Haley about proposals to cut legal migration “by 40 percent,” one common estimate of the reduction that would be forced by Trump’s favored merit-based entry system.

“I don’t know that we’re talking about 40 percent, but what we are talking about is security,” Haley said.

Pressed for her opinion on ending chain migration, Trump’s term for legal immigration through family sponsorship, Haley replied that “it should only be decided on security reasons.”

Axelrod did not ask Haley about running for president. She is considered a Republican rising star and a potential future candidate, although she has denied any near-term ambitions.

Before taking the U.N. job, Haley was best known nationally for leading the effort to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse after the 2015 massacre of worshipers at a historic African American church in Charleston.

Haley did not back Trump during the Republican presidential primary, in which South Carolina is an early-season prize.

In her current position, Haley has maintained a higher profile within the administration than her title might dictate. She advises Trump directly and is among the most hawkish voices on issues including Iran and Israel, sometimes putting her at odds with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In her prepared remarks, Haley said U.S.-led sanctions applied by the United Nations have squeezed North Korea and forced a change in its behavior even if the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs continue.

“The regime has less and less money to spend on its ballistic missile tests and less capacity to threaten other countries with those tests,” Haley said. “It is this fact, more than anything else, that prompted the Kim regime to reach out to South Korea and do public-relations damage control at the Olympics,” she said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Haley also invoked former secretary of state Henry Kissinger to make a point about the increasing bitterness of the political divide in the United States.

Kissinger, she said, had advised her that negotiations go better when one tries to understand an adversary’s goals and motives. That applies in international affairs and politics, she told the students.

“You don’t have to agree with them — most times you won’t. But you have to understand where they’re coming from,” Haley said.

“This is a skill that I am afraid is being lost in America today,” along with perspective on political differences, she said.

“There seems to be more of an inclination to seek virtue in our differences than to build on what we have in common. That can be a recipe for endless conflict,” Haley said. “Far too often, we are inclined to see those who disagree with us as not just wrong but evil.”

She has seen “true evil,” such as the use of rape as a weapon of war in South Sudan and the death, by what she claimed was North Korean torture, of American student Otto Warmbier, Haley said.

“I urge you to remember that your political opponents are not your enemies, and they are not evil,” Haley said. “They are just opponents.”