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U.S. Senate confirms Haley as Trump's U.N. ambassador

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted almost unanimously on Tuesday to confirm South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations, sending a rising Republican star to represent President Donald Trump at an institution he has criticized.

Haley was backed by 96 senators, with only four opposed.

She impressed lawmakers during her confirmation hearing this month. Haley, 45, promised to press for U.N. reforms but also fight for human rights and support international institutions, often breaking from Trump's positions.

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"American values that we all hold dear and want to promote around the world are things that she has the ability to communicate and cares deeply about," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker.

The "No" votes came from Democratic Senators Tom Udall, Chris Coons and Martin Heinrich, and Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

"Like many Americans, and many of our allies, I am concerned about President Trump’s erratic statements and positions on foreign policy, and that concern is only deepened by the fact that his nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations has no real diplomatic experience," Udall said.

Haley has only held office in the state where she has been governor since 2011.

The daughter of immigrants from India, Haley attracted national attention in 2015 when she secured the removal of the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina's capitol grounds after a white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston.

She did not endorse Trump during last year's presidential primaries and has warned that some of his most inflammatory statements promoted hate.

During her confirmation hearing, Haley seconded criticism of the 193-nation organization by Trump and many of their fellow Republicans. She called for a close look at U.S. spending on the United Nations and blasted what she called its bias against Israel. Washington provides 22 percent of the U.N. budget.

The United States and its frequent rivals Russia and China all hold permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council, along with U.S. allies Britain and France. Haley won plaudits at her hearing for promising to stand up to Russia and agreeing that its actions, including bombing hospitals in Syria, should be considered war crimes.

FOURTH CONFIRMED CABINET MEMBER

Haley was easily approved earlier on Tuesday by the 21-member Foreign Relations Committee.

Haley is only the fourth confirmed member of Trump's Cabinet, joining Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo.

Unusually, Trump's pick for secretary of state was not confirmed before his U.N. ambassador. His choice, former Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, faced unanimous opposition from the 10 Foreign Relations Committee Democrats after a confirmation hearing at which they said he seemed poorly prepared.

The full, Republican-led Senate is expected to confirm Tillerson early next week.

Haley is due to be sworn in on Wednesday. She is being succeeded as South Carolina's governor by Republican Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)