Trump at the UN: What to watch for Monday

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President Trump is in New York City for a week of meetings and speeches with foreign leaders amid global uncertainty about a nuclear North Korea.

Trump’s Monday will be packed with meetings, leading up to his first-ever speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday — a highly anticipated address in which the president is expected to discuss the specific threats of North Korea, Iran and global terrorism.

The president’s schedule also includes meeting with representatives from more than 120 nations, as well as U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, to discuss reforming the international organization. Trump has been highly critical of the U.N., and the U.S. is backing changes it hopes will make the organization more efficient and effective.

The president will then meet with leaders from France and Israel with an expected focus on the Middle East — and Iran in particular — for what national security adviser H.R. McMaster has called that country’s “destabilizing behavior” in the region.

Trump will close out his first day of meetings at a working dinner with Latin American leaders to discuss the crisis in Venezuela, as well as how to maximize economic partnerships between the U.S. and South America.

Along the way, the threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and global terrorism in the wake of an attack at a London subway station figure to be hot topics of discussion.

Here are four things to watch for during Trump’s visit:

U.S. pushes for reforms to the U.N.

The Trump administration has not been shy about expressing its discontent with the U.N.

The White House believes the U.S. pays too much for what it gets in return and that peacekeeping missions should be examined for excessive spending. Administration officials have described the U.N. as a bloated bureaucracy and have expressed anger by what they view as insufficient support for key allies, like Israel.

Trump appears to have an ally for reform in Guterres, who assumed the role of secretary general in January.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that she is happy with the direction the U.N. has taken in recent weeks, noting that “Israel bashing” has declined and that the U.N. has passed new sanctions on North Korea.

“It is a new day at the U.N., and I think that the pleas [Trump] made in terms of trying to see change at the United Nations have been heard,” Haley said.

“We said we needed to get value for our dollar, and what we’re finding is that the international community is right there with us in support of reform,” she added.

Disagreements over how to deal with Iran

Trump will meet with leaders from Israel and France to discuss Iran on Monday as the administration steps up its rhetoric against Tehran.

“While their conversations will be wide-ranging, we expect that Iran’s destabilizing behavior, including its violation of the sovereignty of nations across the Middle East, to be a major focus,” McMaster said at a press briefing on Friday.

The White House has until mid-October to notify Congress of whether it believes Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has sought to stress the importance of that deal in private meetings with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

However, Tillerson’s view is that while Iran may technically be keeping to the terms of the deal, that the country has violated the spirit of the agreement through a litany of other “destabilizing activities in the region.”

“Since the nuclear deal has been concluded what we have witnessed is Iran has stepped up its destabilizing activities in Yemen. It’s stepped up its destabilizing activities in Syria. It exports arms to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. And it continues to conduct a very active ballistic missile program,” Tillerson said Sunday on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

“None of that, I would believe, is consistent with that preamble commitment that was made by everyone,” he said.

Unrest in Venezuela

Trump will close out Monday at a working dinner with Latin American leaders, where the focus is expected to be unrest in Venezuela.

The U.S. is asking questions about the legitimacy of President Nicolás Maduro’s election victory over the summer. The country has been racked by violent anti-government protests, as well as currency instability and food and medical shortages.

The U.S. slapped new economic sanctions on the country and is banning American companies from “participating in Maduro’s liquidation of the Venezuelan economy.”

While Trump discusses those challenges with Venezuela’s neighbors, Haley said at a Friday press conference the president is “unlikely” to speak with Maduro directly.

“As you know, the United States designated President Maduro after he victimized his own people, denied them their rights under his own constitution,” Haley said. “And I think as the president has made clear, he’s willing to talk at some point in the future, but it would have to be after rights are restored to the Venezuelan people.”

Finding the right balance on North Korea 

While Trump doesn’t have meetings on Monday that will focus directly on North Korea — he will speak with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in later in the week — the administration will be seeking support for what Tillerson is calling the United States’ “peaceful pressure campaign” from world leaders.

The U.N. recently passed two rounds of sanctions against North Korea, and the Trump administration will be seeking to galvanize the isolated country’s regional neighbors, including Russia and China, against it.

Tillerson has said that despite Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric, the U.S. is committed to a diplomatic solution.

“I’m waiting for the regime of North Korea to give us some indication that they’re prepared to have constructive, productive talks,” Tillerson said Sunday.

Haley, however, has spoken more boldly about the potential for U.S. military action.

“We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first,” she said Sunday on “State of the Union.” “If that doesn’t work, [Defense Secretary James] Mattis will take care of it.”

“If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies anyway,” Haley continued. “North Korea will be destroyed, and we know that and none of us want that. None of us want war.” 

Trump does not have a meeting on the books with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but the administration will be looking to pressure the Asian power where it can.

Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a Trump ally, laid out the administration’s view.

“China can do more,” he said. “We have to put pressure on China, though, to achieve our objective, which is a denuclearized North Korea that can no longer threaten America.”

Tags Nikki Haley Rex Tillerson Tom Cotton
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