Trump draws clear lines in first U.N. address

"The scourge our planet today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate every principle on which the United Nations is based. They respect neither their own citizens, nor the sovereign rights of their countries. If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,” Pres. Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

UNITED NATIONS – In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly President Donald Trump took a hard line with “rogue regimes” particularly Iran and North Korea.  Calling North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, “Rocket Man,” Trump warned North Korea to stop aggressive behavior toward its neighbors and the U.S. He called North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons “reckless” saying it threatens the world with “unthinkable loss of life.”  The north launched its longest missile test to date on Friday.

In a thunderous 41-minute speech on Tuesday, Trump took a decidedly different posture than his predecessor, adopting a more confrontational approach to solving global challenges from Iran to Venezuela, and gave an unabashed defense of U.S. sovereignty.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump told the 193-member world body.

As loud, startled murmurs filled the hall, Trump said, “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”

In his debut appearance at the General Assembly, Trump urged U.N. member states to work together to isolate the Kim government until it ceases its “hostile” behavior. His advisers say he is concerned about North Korea’s advances in missile technology and the few means available for a peaceful response without China’s help. China is North Korea’s largest trading partner.

“It is an outrage that some nations not only trade with such a regime but would arm, supply and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict,” said Trump.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would do everything in her power to ensure a diplomatic solution. “Anything else would lead to disaster,” she said.

Reaction to Trump’s speech was mixed. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, tweeted that Trump, a fellow Republican, “gave a strong and needed challenge” to U.N. members to confront global challenges.

But Democrat Ed Markey of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee denounced Trump’s remarks, telling CNN the president had yet to exhaust his other options in encouraging Pyongyang to negotiate.

“The least we should be able to say is that we tried, we really tried, to avoid a nuclear showdown,” Markey said.

Trump also took aim at Iran’s nuclear ambitions and regional influence, Venezuela’s collapsing democracy, the threat of Islamist extremists and the Cuban government. “Major portions of the world are in conflict and some in fact are going to hell,” he said.

Turning to Iran, Trump called the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, “an embarrassment” and hinted that he may not recertify the agreement when it comes up for a mid-October deadline.  The agreement lifts sanctions on Iran if they agree to dial back their nuclear program. U.N. officials have said that it is not enforced well.  The United States’ U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has called for stronger inspection processes.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said. The Iranian government “masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”

Following the speech, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times – not the 21st Century UN – unworthy of a reply. Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, in his U.N. speech, said his country would not close the door to negotiations over North Korea and staunchly defended the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “Renouncing it would be a grave error,” Macron said.

Trump has long joined critics of the United Nations saying it has become too bureaucratic and too many member nations have not fulfilled their financial pledge to support it.  Yet he also has repeatedly said it has “tremendous potential.”

“The United States is one out of 193 countries in the United Nations and yet we pay 22 percent of the entire budget and more. In fact, we pay far more than anybody realizes,” Trump said.

The U.N. spends approximately $7 billion a year on peacekeeping operations, and of that the U.S. pays 28 percent.  Trump told a meeting Monday on U.N. reform that he wants to cap U.S. contribution at 25 percent and see reforms in management gain traction.

Analysts and some U.N. insiders say progress in on-the-ground peacekeeping efforts in Congo and other places are hampered by administrators in New York dodging thorny issues like confusion over the mission’s priorities and a culture that appears to protect senior, well-paid officials at all costs.

The discussions over reforms, impact and costs on the U.N. will continue through September 25 during its 72nd General Assembly.


Reuters News Service contributed to this report.