World

UN agency rejects Trump nominee who made controversial Islam, refugee posts

The UN's migration agency snubbed the Trump administration's candidate to lead it on Friday, a major blow to U.S. leadership of a body addressing one of the world's most pressing issues — and only the second time that it won't be run by an American since 1951.

An American has almost always held top International Organization for Migration post since 1951

Ken Isaacs, U.S. candidate for director general of the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM), is shown in a photo released by U.S. Mission Geneva on Thursday in Switzerland. (U.S. Mission Geneva/Handout via Reuters)

The UN's migration agency snubbed the Trump administration's candidate to lead it on Friday, a major blow to U.S. leadership of a body addressing one of the world's most pressing issues — and only the second time that it won't be run by an American since 1951.

Ken Isaacs, nominated by President Donald Trump in February, came third behind Portugal's Antonio Vitorino and Costa Rica's Laura Thompson in a secret ballot of member states of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva, delegates said.

"Yet another sign that [U.S.] power, authority and prestige has been so dramatically diminished," tweeted Keith Harper, who was the ambassador to the rights council during Barack Obama's presidency. The "IOM Director is seen as an 'American seat' and Trump was unable to place an American in it."

Isaacs, vice-president of U.S. evangelical charity Samaritan's Purse, had caused controversy after being forced to
apologize for tweets and social media posts in which he disparaged Muslims.

The North Carolina native tweeted "#Islam is not peaceful" and "Muslims fast, they also blast," in response to news events in the past three years. He also once compared Islam to the People's Temple, the cult led by Jim Jones at which hundreds were killed in Guyana in 1978.

He also suggested Switzerland and Austria should consider building a border wall to keep illegal aliens out.

Also retweeted conspiracy theories

The Washington Post and CNN, working separately, uncovered over 100 questionable tweets and retweets from Isaacs that also included conspiracy theories about deaths of people known to Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as the 2016 killing of Seth Rich, a young employee of the Democratic National Committee.

Issacs apologized after the Post report came to light in February.

Nominees need two-thirds approval from voting members. Senegalese diplomat Youssoupha Ndiaye, upon leaving the voting in Geneva, said: "The American is out."

William Lacy Swing is the outgoing IOM director general. An American has held the post on all but one occasion since 1951, but comments by Isaacs and Trump as well as administration policies surrounding immigration and refugees that have included a travel ban from several countries and the separation of children from parents requesting asylum may have hampered his chances.

Mark Hetfield, a self-described friend of Isaacs who heads the humanitarian group HIAS, which works with IOM, put the blame on policies and invective from the man in the White House, not the candidate.

"This IOM election really was not about Ken Isaacs, for whom I have a lot of respect as a humanitarian," Hetfield said. "The election was an international referendum rejecting President Trump and his xenophobic, Islamophobic and isolationist policies. Let's face it, Isaacs's tweets were no worse than the ones coming out of the White House."

Vitorino, 61, was ultimately chosen. He is a former EU commissioner for Home and Justice Affairs who has been president of the "Notre Europe" think-tank for the past seven years. He is considered very close to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, also a Portuguese Socialist early in his political career.

Thompson, currently an IOM deputy director-general, was vying to become the agency's first woman chief.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this Associated Press story said incorrectly that an American had always held the director-general post since 1951. In fact, on one other occasion the agency was led by someone not from the U.S.
    Jun 29, 2018 9:19 AM ET

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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