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Donald Trump defends ‘America ‘first’ in U.N. General Assembly speech

September 26, 2018

President Trump told the United Nations on Tuesday that the U.S. is guided by patriotism instead of globalism, rejecting the authority of world bodies such as the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organization and a U.N. migration initiative even as he praised the U.N. itself as a force for peace.

In the most in-your-face defense yet of his “America First” agenda, a defiant Mr. Trump stood before U.N. delegates who sneered openly at him and told them that the U.S. will never submit to international controls as long as he is in charge.

“America is governed by Americans,” Mr. Trump told the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York. “We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unaccountable, unelected global bureaucracy.”

The president warned that his administration would take a “hard look” at its foreign aid budget of more than $40 billion and stop rewarding countries that act against U.S. interests.

“We are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends,” he said.

Mr. Trump arrived at the United Nations as more of a known quantity to his audience than a year ago, when he shocked the world’s diplomats by promising to “totally destroy” North Korea if it continued to threaten the U.S. This time, a more somber Mr. Trump began his speech by saying he wanted “to share the extraordinary progress we’ve made.”

“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” the president said with obvious pride for the thriving U.S. economy.

But the assembled delegates greeted Mr. Trump’s victory lap with audible grumbling and some derisive laughter.

“So true,” Mr. Trump said of America’s progress. “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.”

His ad-libbed comment prompted more laughter and some applause.

In regard to Iran, the president called on world leaders to join the U.S. in isolating and sanctioning Tehran until the Islamic republic stops spreading terrorism and working to build a nuclear arsenal.

“We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons,” Mr. Trump said. “We ask all nations to isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues.”

But Mr. Trump’s broader theme was a rejection of global trade rules and other international controls that he said have harmed U.S. interests for decades. He attacked the World Trade Organization and the International Criminal Court, which he said has no legitimacy.

The president also criticized the U.N. global compact on migration, an effort that President Obama embraced to resettle refugees. The Trump administration notified the United Nations late last year that the U.S. would not continue with Mr. Obama’s commitment to the initiative.

“The U.S. will not participate in the new global compact on migration,” Mr. Trump said. “Migration should not be governed by an international body unaccountable to our own citizens.”

He also said the U.S. would not rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council, from which America withdrew last year, until it reforms.

Even as he scorned international rules, Mr. Trump offered praise for the United Nations. He said at a luncheon that the world body “is like home” to him.

“The United Nations has this incredible potential to bring people together,” he said.

Democrats in Washington panned Mr. Trump’s speech. Rep. Eliot L. Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the address “will serve only to isolate us further.”

“It remains deeply unsettling to see an American president stand before the United Nations a body in which American leadership has changed the course of the world for decades and espouse a worldview that undermines so much of what we helped build on the global stage,” Mr. Engel said.

Sen. David Perdue, Georgia Republican and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Trump was “displaying strong leadership at a time when the world needs it most.”

“President Trump sent a strong message to all sovereign nations: The United States will not tolerate expansionist foreign powers, will fight against human trafficking and will partner worldwide to tackle the global drug crisis,” he said.

Mr. Trump said he is standing up not only for the U.S. but also for other sovereign nations.

“That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control and domination,” he said. “I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”

Referring to his tariff war with China, Mr. Trump said the U.S. has lost 3 million manufacturing jobs since China joined the WTO.

“We have racked up $13 trillion in trade deficits over last two decades,” he said. “Those days are over. America will never apologize for protecting its citizens. China’s market distortions and the way they deal cannot be tolerated. America will always act in our national interest.”

Mr. Trump also said “responsible” countries must guard against “new forms of coercion and domination” such as the 15-nation OPEC, which largely controls oil prices worldwide.

“OPEC and OPEC nations, are, as usual, ripping off the rest of the world, and I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said. “Nobody should like it. We defend many of these nations for nothing, and then they take advantage of us by giving us high oil prices. We want them to stop raising prices, we want them to start lowering prices, and they must contribute substantially to military protection from now on. We are not going to put up with it these horrible prices much longer.”

He praised Poland for building a pipeline to reduce its dependence on crude oil and natural gas from Russia.

“Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course,” Mr. Trump said in reference to the planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would double the amount of natural gas shipped to Germany from Russia.

Among the challenges facing numerous nations, he said, are “threats to sovereignty from uncontrolled migration.”

“Illegal immigration funds criminal networks, ruthless gangs and the flow of deadly drugs,” Mr. Trump said. “Illegal immigration exploits vulnerable populations, hurts hardworking citizens, and has produced a vicious cycle of crime, violence and poverty. Only by upholding national borders, destroying criminal gangs can we break this cycle and establish a real foundation for prosperity.

“We recognize the right of every nation in this room to set its own immigration policy in accordance with its national interests, just as we ask other countries to respect our own right to do the same which we are doing.”

While rejecting international forums, Mr. Trump hailed the cooperation of many U.N. members in helping the U.S. exert economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile violations.

“With support from many countries here today, we have engaged with North Korea to replace the specter of conflict with a bold and new push for peace,” Mr. Trump said. “The missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction. Nuclear testing has stopped. Some military facilities are already being dismantled.”

He thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “for his courage and for the steps he has taken” but said sanctions “will stay in place until denuclearization occurs.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr. Trump’s claims of progress with North Korea are misleading.

“Kim Jong-un’s regime continues to produce fissile material and improve missile capabilities,” he said. “The nuclear threat North Korea poses is and will remain very real until the Trump administration clearly articulates its strategy to actually halt North Korea’s production of nuclear bomb material and the means to deliver it through a reasonable, sequenced plan in coordination with our closest allies and partners.”

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