Trump Tells UN to Back Reforms, Will Press for Firm Stance on North Korea
By Joseph Weber
President Trump stormed the international stage Monday, telling global leaders at the United Nations to back a reform agreement, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then preparing for his first address to the U.N. General Assembly , where he is expected to focus on North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.
The whirlwind dose of diplomacy featured Trump’s past criticism of U.N. waste and mismanagement, tempered with his hope that a reform deal backed by more than 100 nations can get the world body back to the “noble goals” it was founded upon.
“If we work together and champion reform, the U.N. will emerge stronger,” Trump said at U.N. headquarters in New York. “We affirm our commitment to the United Nations reform, and reform is what we’re talking about.”
Trump was expected to talk with Netanyahu about the Iran nuclear deal and U.S. efforts to broker an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement. Netanyahu, who has warned for decades about neighboring Iran being a nuclear threat to the entire Middle East, is expected to urge Trump to exit the July 2015 international accord, in which Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of billions in economic sanctions.
Trump, during his winning 2016 presidential campaign, vowed to exit the deal amid concerns that Iran was not complying, saying on the stump he would “rip it up.”
However, as president Trump has so far gone along with the deal, purportedly at the urging of his top military advisers. Last month, Trump passed on the opportunity to re-impose Iran sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Sunday telegraphed that the agreement will be a major topic for Trump at the U.N. and that allowing Iran to continue to violate the agreement is unacceptable.
“We can't be giving this regime cover to develop a nuclear capability,” McMaster told “Fox News Sunday.” “We know Iran has already violated parts of the agreement. … So, there has to be much more rigorous enforcement of the deal. And we have to recognize the fundamental flaws in this deal.”
Netanyahu’s most likely strategy will be to persuade Trump to not recertify the deal in October.
But North Korea, not Iran, is likely to dominate Trump’s much-anticipated address to the General Assembly on Tuesday. Trump is expected to try to make an unequivocal case for the assembly’s 193 members to help stop North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from testing nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles on which to launch a nuclear warhead.
Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter and former House speaker, on Monday told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” that China and Russia “risk a real war on their borders” if North Korea continues to go unchecked.
“They had better get together and get North Korea to stand down on its (nuclear) program,” said Gingrich.
Beyond the substance of Trump’s upcoming speech, the world will also be watching his delivery on the world stage, amid a war of words with Kim, including the president on Sunday calling him “rocket man.”
While Trump and his Cabinet have so far pursued a path of diplomacy and sanctions, they have made clear the potential for a U.S. military response.
“This regime is so close now to threatening the United States and others with a nuclear weapon that we really have to move with a great deal of urgency on sanctions, on diplomacy, and on preparing, if necessary, a military option,” McMaster said Sunday.
Trump on Monday will also meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and host a dinner for Latin American leaders, amid concerns about the economic and political turmoil in Venezuela.
As a candidate for president, Trump labeled the U.N. as weak and incompetent, and not a friend of either the United States or Israel. But he has softened his tone since taking office, recently praisiing a pair of unanimous U.N. Security Council votes to tighten sanctions on North Korea over its continued tests.
Still, the president remained critical in his early speech Monday.
“The U.N. was founded on truly noble goals,” he said. “Yet in recent years, the U.N. has not reached its full potential because if bureaucracy and mismanagement. Every peace-keeping mission has to have clearly defined goal.”
The U.S. has asked member nations to sign a declaration on U.N. reforms. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said Monday that 129 have done so.
“Your response has been nothing short of fantastic,” she said.
Ahead of the agreement, the Trump administration conducted a review of the U.N.'s 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations, which cost nearly $8 billion a year. Cutting their costs and making them more effective is a top priority for Haley.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.