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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Trump blasts Iran deal, threatens to destroy North Korea in UN address 

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced US president's remarks as 'shameless and ignorant'

US president Donald Trump delivers his first address to the United Nations in New York. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
US president Donald Trump delivers his first address to the United Nations in New York. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

US president Donald Trump lashed out at what he called “rogue” “oppressive” and “criminal” regimes in North Korea, Iran and Syria, in a fiery first address to the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr Trump branded the nuclear deal signed with Tehran an “embarrassment” and threatened to “destroy North Korea” if its leader goes on a “suicide mission”, in a speech that was packed with punches throughout its 45-minute duration.

Mr Trump offered harsh criticism on Iran, North Korea, and the Assad regime, while extending a hand to work on a political solution in Syria. He thanked Russia and China for working to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.

"The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into... That deal is an embarrassment,” Mr Trump said, as cameras showed Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu nodding and smiling in the audience.

The US president lambasted Tehran for propping up Hizbollah, the Assad regime and its meddling in the war in Yemen.

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy," Mr Trump said.

He added that US will “act against countries providing safe havens to Al Qaeda, Hizbollah and the Taliban”.

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On Syria, Mr Trump called for a "political solution that honours the will of the Syrian people” while labelling Assad government as a "criminal regime".

“The actions of the criminal regime of Bashar Al Assad shock the conscience of every decent person," he said.

North Korea took a large share of Mr Trump’s speech. He started by thanking China and Russia for joining the vote to impose sanctions at the Security council, before criticising “those who trade with the regime” in Pyongyang.

North Korea's ambassador to the UN, Ja Song-nam, leaves before the US president's speech at the UN. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
North Korea's ambassador to the UN, Ja Song-nam, leaves before the US president's speech at the UN. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

He did not shy away from the threat of force saying “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission".

Mr Trump’s speech was consistent with his populist philosophy that brought him to power, bringing up US military might and what he saw as economic prosperity since the election.

"I will always put America first, just as you should always put your countries first," he said. The US president also emphasised the reform agenda and applauded Secretary General Antonio Guterres for steps taken in that direction.

The speech was attended by 170 representatives including those from Iran and Syria.

North Korea's ambassador to the UN, Ja Song-nam, left his seat before Mr Trump gave his address.

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced Mr Trump’s remarks as “shameless and ignorant”.

The speech offered a broader view of his administration’s foreign policy.

There was an indication that he may disrupt the nuclear deal signed with Tehran in 2015, experts told The National.

In pictures: UN speakers

They interpreted his strong on North Korea, as one that encourages Russia and China to do more, and to shore up his domestic base.

The speech offered “elements of a foreign policy doctrine in one of his most comprehensive addresses to an international audience” said Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“I think there is still plenty we need to learn, to understand the world order that Mr Trump seeks to create, but we have an idea of the one which he stands against,” he said.

Mr Trump also harshly criticised Venezuela and Cuba while at the same time extending a hand to work on a de-escalation plan for the Syrian war.

He thanked Russia and China for working to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.

Mr Trump told the UN audience that this was not the last time the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, would come up in his addresses. This was a hint that the US may be seeking among other options to renegotiate the agreement, Mr Schanzer said.

“This implies that the international community has to go back and look at it, we don’t know if it means renegotiations, or decertification of the deal, but it is a solid indication that Mr Trump is not happy with the deal as is,” he said.

Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group (ICG), said Mr Trump’s speech “makes it sound unlikely that the US administration will certify Iran's compliance with the JCPOA on October 15, setting the world up for a new crisis.”

Mr Vaez warned that “sacrificing a nuclear deal that is working and the rest of the world is highly satisfied with is a new height for irrational foreign policy.”

“It will make it impossible for the US to negotiate another nuclear agreement with either Iran or North Korea,” he said.

Mr Schanzer said the US president did not repeat a campaign promise to tear up the nuclear deal.

In a clear departure from the previous administration of Barack Obama, Mr Trump criticized the nature of Iran’s regime. “The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy," he said.

He added that the US will “act against countries providing safe havens to Al Qaeda, Hizbollah and Taliban”.

Mr Vaez said such language may backfire, and that “demonising Iran would not usher in more moderate Iranian policies” but may instead make Tehran “double down on its missile programme and regional policies.”

The US President also emphasized the reform agenda and applauded Secretary General Antonio Guterres for steps taken in that direction.

Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the “America First” rhetoric and major portions of the speech were largely aimed at a domestic audience.

“It was surprising that Mr Trump felt the need to remind people of US power,” he said.

Mr Alterman said the speech “fell short on calls for partnership, which has been a US strategy at the UN since its founding ... while the president didn’t attack the institution, he also didn’t make much pretense of trying to lead the member states, either.”