U.S. President Donald Trump stood before the UN General Assembly on Tuesday and rejected “globalism” and liberal immigration policies while exhorting the world to act against Iran’s “bloodlust.” His speech before world leaders had to compete with news from Washington of a growing movement by Democrats to impeach him.
Trump took aim at China, Venezuela and what he called a “growing cottage industry” of radical activists intent on pushing for open borders that harm national security and sovereignty. In a later meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he fended off fresh questions from reporters about his attempts to press Ukraine’s president to investigate the family of political rival Joe Biden.
As he addressed the General Assembly, Trump lambasted the World Trade Organization for giving China preferential treatment that he said was undeserved. He slammed socialism for bringing ruin to Venezuela. But he reserved much of his ire for Iran, which he called “one of the greatest threats” to the planet.
“Not only is Iran the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, but Iran’s leaders are fuelling the tragic wars in both Syria and Yemen,” Trump told world leaders. “All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s bloodlust.”
The Trump administration’s hard-line Iran policy got a boost on Monday from Britain, France and Germany, which blamed Iran for an attack on Saudi oil facilities earlier this month and said the time had come to negotiate a new deal with Tehran to replace the landmark 2015 nuclear accord from which Trump withdrew last year.
U.S. officials said they hope the new European stance would galvanize opposition to Iran and boost the “maximum pressure” campaign that the administration has pursued by increasing sanctions on the Islamic republic. There had been speculation, fuelled by Trump himself, that he might meet in New York with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but officials said that prospect was increasingly unlikely, particularly after the joint statement from Britain, France and Germany.
Trump did, however, raise the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough, saying, “The United States has never believed in permanent enemies. We want partners, not adversaries.”
Back in Washington, talk of impeachment has been growing among congressional Democrats since it was revealed that Trump ordered his staff to freeze nearly $400-million in aid to Ukraine a few days before a phone call in which he pressured the Eastern European nation’s leader to investigate the family of Biden.
Trump, facing reporters’ questions about Ukraine during his meeting with Johnson, said there was nothing inappropriate in his contacts with Ukraine’s president, which he said were aimed at fighting corruption. He later tweeted that the government on Wednesday would release a transcript of his talk with the Ukrainian president showing it was a “totally appropriate call.”
It was a remarkable split-screen dynamic, Trump using the global spotlight to push his “America First,” go-it-alone foreign policy approach even as Democrats debated his political future.
The president implored the world’s leaders to prioritize their own nations, with strong borders and one-on-one trade deals, rejecting sweeping transnational organizations and alliances.
“The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to strong, independent nations,” Trump told a murmuring crowd at the General Assembly. “Globalism exerted a religious pull over past leaders, causing them to ignore their own national interests. Those days are over.”
Trump’s speech was greeted with tepid applause from the world leaders. A sharp contrast to his fiery rally speeches, Trump on Tuesday adopted a more sombredemeanour. He grasped the podium throughout his address, his voice at times so soft it would have been hard to hear without microphones. For an extended stretch, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sat in the audience with his eyes closed, appearing asleep.
Though denouncing Iran’s aggression, Trump did not explicitly blame Tehran for recent strikes against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Iran has denied orchestrating the attack, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has deemed “an act of war.”
Britain, France and Germany joined the United States on Monday in blaming Iran for the attacks. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, for his part, pointed to claims of responsibility by Yemeni rebels and insisted: “If Iran were behind this attack, nothing would have been left of this refinery.”
Trump urged Tehran to follow the example set by North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, even though the autocrat continues to hold a tight grip on his nuclear weapons.
Trump, who has met with Kim for a pair of summits and a historic step into North Korea, said this week that another meeting “could happen soon.” He provided few details, and it wasn’t clear what officials were doing behind the scenes to set up a meeting to break the diplomatic impasse over the North’s development of nuclear-armed missiles targeting the U.S. mainland.
“While anyone can make war, only the most courageous can choose peace,” said Trump, praising Kim.
He also delivered a bellicose warning to Venezuela. He denounced the government of Nicolas Maduro and declared that he awaited the day “when Venezuela will be free and when liberty will prevail throughout this hemisphere.” He called socialism “the wrecker of nations” and “destroyer of societies.”
His call came just a day after the United States and more than a dozen Latin American countries agreed to investigate and arrest associates and senior officials of Maduro’s government who are suspected of crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering and financing terrorism. Trump also, as he has done before, obliquely linked the crisis in Venezuela to the leftist policies of his domestic political opponents, vowing that the United States would “never be a socialist nation.”
As always, the political realities at home were never far from Trump’s mind.
He underscored the need for a fair trade deal with China, threatening more tariffs even as the ongoing dispute has rattled markets and endangered the domestic economic success on which Trump has banked his re-election hopes. And linking sovereignty to strong borders, Trump touted a hawkish immigration world view popular with his conservative political base while chastising other governments for not doing their part.
“One of our most critical challenges is illegal immigration,” Trump said. He decried “radical activists” who “encourage illegal migration,” declaring that their policies are “not just. Your policies are cruel and evil.”
But Trump made no mention of the centrepiece issue of this year’s General Assembly: climate change. On Monday, he made only a 15-minute cameo at a global climate change meeting and later mocked 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who had scolded the audience at the climate summit.
Trump tweeted: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”
This was Trump’s third speech to the world body. In his 2017 speech, he dubbed Kim “Little Rocket Man” and denounced North Korea from the podium like he did to Iran this year. In last year’s speech, his praise for his own administration’s accomplishments drew laughs from the assembled leaders.
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