Reviews on President Donald Trump’s no-holds-barred speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday were mixed, with reactions ranging from “very dark” and “dangerous” to “the best speech” of his presidency.
During his 41-minute address, Trump slammed the governments of North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela as “the scourge of our planet” while repeatedly promoting national sovereignty as a pillar of peace upon which the UN was founded.
“I will always put America first just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first,” Trump said.
Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “rocket man” and threatened to “totally destroy” the rogue nation if further provoked. The president, turning his attention to Iran, then called the nuclear deal involving both countries an “embarrassment” for the US. And on Venezuela, Trump called for a “full restoration of democracy and political freedoms,” adding that the Venezuelan problem is not that “socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”
While noting that “major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell,” Trump pointed to the US’ outsized financial contribution to the New York-based UN, calling it “unfair.”
The speech was widely praised on the right.
“In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu said. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”
John Bolton, who was the US ambassador to the UN during President George W. Bush’s administration, called it “the best speech of the Trump presidency.”
“I think he was as clear and direct as it’s possible to be… I think the centrepiece of the speech was the criticism of the behaviour of North Korea and Iran,” Bolton said. “And I think it’s safe to say in the entire history of the United Nations, there has never been a more straightforward criticism of the behaviour, the unacceptable behaviour of other member states.”
Meanwhile, Republicans who have often criticised Trump approved of the speech.
“President Trump gave a strong and needed challenge to UN members to live up to its charter and to confront global challenges,” Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, tweeted.
And GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement that he was “very impressed” with the speech.
“President Trump is right to rally the world to deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea,” Graham said. “He’s also right to focus on getting a better deal with Iran regarding their nuclear program, and to push the UN to reform the way it does business.”
That response was not matched by other world leaders and those across the aisle politically here in the US. Many said Trump was further inflaming tensions with nations such as North Korea and Iran needlessly.
“This was a bombastic, nationalist speech,” said Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister. “It must have been decades since one last heard a speech like that in the UN General Assembly. … This was a speech at the wrong time to the wrong audience.”
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement that Trump’s speech ran counter to the principles the UN is founded upon.
“The goals of the United Nations are to foster peace and promote global cooperation,” Feinstein said. “Today, the president used it as a stage to threaten war.”
“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,” she added. “He aims to unify the world through tactics of intimidation, but in reality he only further isolates the United States.”
On MSNBC, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware conceded that Trump’s speech contained “some strong parts,” though he said “there were some very concerning parts of the speech.”
“He is right to stand up in the world forum like the UN and call Iran on its violations of human rights and its ballistic missile program and to say that North Korea should be resisted by the world community when it threatens South Korea, Japan and the United States,” he said. “So I will applaud President Trump for his continued forceful leadership, as we try to assemble a world coalition against North Korea. But there were also aspects of his speech that were unhelpful, at best.”
“Calling Kim Jong Un by a nickname, ‘Rocket Man,’ which is really more suited for Twitter, or, frankly, for a schoolyard spat, than for the United Nations,” he continued. “And threatening to walk away from the Iran deal, which is exceptionally unhelpful if his real goal is to pull together our allies and potential partners from around the world and applying more pressure on North Korea.”
And speaking with CBS “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called the speech “very dark, dangerous — not the kind of message that the leader of the greatest nation in the world should be delivering.”
“Your first approach should always be diplomatic,” she said. “What I’d hoped the president would have said was something along the lines of, you know: ‘We view this as dangerous to our allies, to the region and even to our country. We call on all nations to work with us to try to end the threat posed by Kim Jong Un.’ And not call him ‘Rocket Man,’ the old Elton John song.”
The strongest response condemning Trump’s speech came unsurprisingly from Iran, a nation Trump targeted at length. The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Wednesday that the US should experience “painful responses” and that “a definitive stand against Trump is only the beginning of the path.”
“Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times — not the 21st Century UN — unworthy of a reply,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one.”
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