President Trump used a fiery maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Trump dubbed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” and said his “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons … threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life.”
“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” Trump said, adding that if the U.S. “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
The president’s comments caused a stir among the crowd of leaders and diplomats at the U.N. and represented his starkest ultimatum yet against North Korea, which could escalate the ongoing nuclear crisis with the isolated country.
During his 41-minute speech, Trump showed no indication he plans to back down against Pyongyang or other U.S. adversaries.
“No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea,” he said, running down a laundry list of human-rights abuses.
In a thinly veiled shot at China, North Korea’s closest economic partner, Trump called it “an outrage” that some nations continue to do business with “a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict.”
Trump laid out his “America First” vision of foreign policy, arguing all countries — including the U.S. — should serve the interests of their own people and uphold their sovereignty. But he said the world faces some grave threats that require a collective response from the international community.
The president urged nations to confront Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons and its “destabilizing activities in the Middle East.”
He blasted the six-nation nuclear agreement with Tehran as an “embarrassment to the United States” and pledged to root out “radical Islamic terrorism” that in some cases is supported by the Iranian government.
Socialist rulers in Venezuela and Cuba also found themselves in Trump’s crosshairs for their crackdowns on dissent and political freedoms.
Similar to his inaugural address, when he spoke of “American carnage,” Trump painted a dark picture of a world plagued by violence and strife.
“Major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell,” he said.
Both speeches were drafted with the help of Stephen Miller, Trump’s nationalist policy adviser.
Any American president’s first speech to the U.N. is an important opportunity for the world to get a sense of his views on foreign affairs and United States' role in the world. But there was an added level of anticipation, and anxiety, ahead of Trump’s address.
Trump has been a longtime critic of the 193-nation body, down to the green marble tile that lines its New York headquarters. During the 2016 campaign, he blasted the U.N. as a social club for global elites that violated the rights of sovereign governments. He also outlined a more limited role for the U.S. in world affairs.
On Tuesday, Trump did express optimism that the organization can still “solve many of these vicious and complex problems” facing the world if its member nations bear greater responsibility for their own welfare and defense.
“The United States will forever be a great friend to the world and especially to its allies,” Trump said. "But we can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return."
“As long as I hold this office, I will defend America's interests above all else,” he added. “But in fulfilling our obligations to our own nations, we also realize that it's in everyone's interest to seek a future where all nations can be sovereign, prosperous and secure.”
Trump received a mixed reception from foreign leaders, many of whom were watching him speak in person for the first time.
His speech was interrupted by a smattering of applause when he called on nations to defend their own interests, as well as when he called on Venezuela to return to democracy. Trump received a full, polite round of applause from dignitaries after he wrapped up his speech, according to a reporter in the room.
There’s no question that Trump’s speech generated widespread interest; the assembly hall was packed to capacity, and many more people filled the aisles to watch.
The North Korean delegation, which was offered a front-row seat for leaders’ speeches on Tuesday, was not in attendance for Trump’s address.
The president’s comments also reverberated back in Washington, where critics took aim at his warnings to Pyongyang.
“Trump’s bombastic threat to destroy North Korea and his refusal to present any positive pathways forward on the many global challenges we face are severe disappointments,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinF-35 fighter jets may fall behind adversaries, House committee warns Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (D-Calif.).
“He aims to unify the world through tactics of intimidation, but in reality he only further isolates the United States.”
Trump's allies cheered his speech as a much-needed dose of tough talk.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted after the speech that in more than 30 years of attending summits, he has never heard a speech as “brave.”
In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech.— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) September 19, 2017