Karen Pierce, a veteran diplomat who is currently Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, was named to the new post Friday. She said she thinks the “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States will stay the same following Britain’s departure from the European Union, “because some of what binds us together, particularly on the security side, is deep and enduring and it’s also two-way.” She recalled U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent statement in London that British intelligence has helped prevent attacks on American soil.
Pierce, 60, will replace Kim Darroch, whose critical portrayal of the Trump administration led to an embarrassing trans-Atlantic spat and his resignation from the Washington ambassadorial post in July.
Trump expressed fury when leaked diplomatic documents from Darroch, published in Britain’s Mail on Sunday newspaper, called the U.S. administration's policy toward Iran "incoherent," said the president might be indebted to "dodgy Russians," and questioned whether the White House "will ever look competent." Trump tweeted that Darroch was “wacky" and “a very stupid guy."
Pierce said in an interview with The Associated Press at Britain’s U.N. Mission after her appointment was announced in London that she has been “lucky” to have met the president several times, with the prime minister and the U.N. Security Council, stressing how “gracious” he was.
While “one would always be nervous meeting a head of state,” Pierce said, she looks forward to conversations with Trump about all the areas “our countries care about so much.” One critical issue will be Britain’s need to strike a trade deal with the United States following its EU exit.
Pierce said there are also areas “where we disagree,” some where disagreements are “quite deep — but I don’t think that affects the overall health of the relationship.” Britain and the U.S. disagree about the Iran nuclear deal that Trump pulled the U.S. out of, the Paris climate agreement that the U.S. also exited and Chinese tech giant Huawei’s 5G network, which the U.K. opted not to ban as the Trump administration sought.
Pierce recalled that when she served at the British Embassy in Washington in the 1990s, there was "a big gulf” between the U.S. and Europe over Bosnia and the Balkan war, saying the rift “did leak into all different aspects of relations.”
“I’m not seeing that now,” she said. “Obviously I will do my best to put the British point of view across and do my best to narrow differences. But I think it’s also about exploiting opportunities for both America and for Britain in this relationship.”
In the announcement of her appointment, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “It is a time of huge opportunity for the friendship between the U.K. and U.S. and I am delighted that Karen Pierce will take forward this exciting new chapter in our relationship.”
Pierce, who was the first woman to be Britain's U.N. ambassador and will be the first woman to be its U.S. ambassador, said she doesn’t think Trump will be disappointed she was chosen rather than Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader who is Britain’s leading champion of Trump. The U.S. president had said Farage would make a “great ambassador.”
Pierce said she is looking ahead to expanding U.K.-U.S. relations. “It’s a huge honor anywhere to represent your country, but to be able to do that in Washington ... at a really important time in Britain’s development of the nation, I have to say I’m slightly overwhelmed, but I am really, really looking forward to it,” she said.
America is really “a land of opportunity,” Pierce said, “and now we’ve left the European Union I want to find out those new opportunities and exploit them, use them, develop them for the benefit of the U.K. but also for the benefit of America.” She pointed to “a whole swath of new areas” including in science, artificial intelligence and cyber.
“If you take something like the creative industries, we export something like over $100 million, some estimates say $200 million to the United States,” Pierce said. “We don’t just export British villains. So, I think that’s an area to really push forward on.”
Pierce said she also wants to have “more people-to-people links” and feels the U.S. election campaign will be an opportunity for her “to get to know America.” “America’s demographic has been changing,” she said. “There are some people who perhaps don’t know how deep the relationship with Britain has been and the potential is for the future. So, it’ll be my job to reach all the parts of America.”
Britain has had two women prime ministers — Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May — and Pierce said the U.K. also has female ambassadors in China and Russia. Has the glass ceiling been cracked for female British diplomats?
“We’re not there yet but we’re well on our way,” Pierce said. She expressed hope that seeing women diplomats and those from underrepresented groups in top jobs will encourage more people “to give it a go, because I have been very lucky and I’m determined to repay that luck.”
Associated Press writer Danica Kirka reported in London and AP writer Edith M. Lederer reported from the United Nations.