Trump takes 'America First' to wary U.N. audience

NEW YORK — President Trump will use his maiden speech to the U.N. General Assembly to condemn Iran, call for global action on North Korea, and unapologetically defend his nationalistic “America First” stance before wary world leaders, administration officials said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is skipping the annual diplomatic crush in New York, but Trump will at least implicitly criticize Beijing in his Tuesday speech for not doing enough to tighten an economic vise on North Korea.

Trump “will speak in extremely tough terms about the North Korean menace and the threat it poses to our security and the security of all the nations in that room,” a senior White House official told reporters. “And he will talk about, as well, the enablement of the North Korean regime and what that means too.”

It’s not clear whether the president, who has repeatedly denounced President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, will declare whether he intends to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal by an Oct. 15 deadline. But he will deliver a message aimed at the Islamic republic’s people, the official said.

“One of the greatest threats to the … status quo in Iran is the Iranian people themselves,” Trump will make clear, according to the official. “And so there will obviously be some discussion about the tension between the direction the country is currently being run in and the desires of the people and what kind of future they want to have.”

The speech from the rostrum of the United Nations will put Trump in front of his largest in-person audience of world leaders. Foreign capitals have taken note of the president’s past addresses, like his demand in Saudi Arabia that all countries confront terrorism, and his nationalist clarion call in Poland, where he vowed to “defend our civilization.”

Trump’s presidency has been shaped by a range of clashes with global allies. The president suggested he would not honor NATO’s mutual-defense provision unless partner nations stepped up defense spending. He scrapped U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, upsetting leaders in Japan, South Korea and a number of other countries worried about being in the shadow of a rising China. He called for ending the U.S. trade deal with South Korea, shocking Seoul at a time when both countries need to cooperate on North Korea. He withdrew from the Paris Agreement to fight climate change, a step French President Emmanuel Macron has urged him to reconsider. And Trump has repeatedly said Mexico will pay for the border wall he promised during his campaign, something America’s southern neighbor flatly rejects.

Trump will return to the themes of increased burden-sharing and nation-state sovereignty —principles that some in his audience may hear as U.S. retrenchment from international cooperation and strident nationalism.

“I think the main message is ‘Make the United Nations Great.’ Not ‘again,’ ‘make the United Nations great,’” Trump told reporters on Monday. “Such tremendous potential, and I think we’ll be able to do this.”

“He’s not interested in nation-building, not interested in creating democracies through the use of the U.S. military, but is interested in creating stability in the world,” the senior White House official said. And Trump will mount “a defense of our civilizational values and what makes us special.”

During his campaign and since taking office, Trump has repeatedly expressed skepticism about alliances like NATO, trade pacts and associations like the European Union. He may not do so explicitly on Tuesday, but the perspective that drives those sentiments will be on display.

“It’s an appeal to each nation to use sovereignty as the basis for mutual cooperation, the idea being that rather than appealing to a top-down model of global bureaucracy,” the official said.

“In essence here, what the president is doing is explaining how the principle of America First is not only consistent with the goal of international cooperation, but a rational basis for every country to engage in cooperation, because all countries that are sovereign put the needs of their own citizens first,” the official said.

The official denied that Trump’s message amounted to a criticism of the United Nations. “The United Nations, as the president will explain, was conceived from the idea of independent nation-states cooperating together,” he said.

Asked what threatened U.S. sovereignty, the official replied with a familiar list that included immigration, trade agreements and other international accords — which Trump criticized throughout the 2016 campaign.

“Those of us who are lucky enough to have the chance to be advisers are working for a person who’s had a deeply developed worldview for decades, in terms of reshaping America’s — establishing fairness in America’s relationships with other countries and creating a foreign policy that is driven by outcomes, not by ideologies,” the official said.

The official described Trump as appreciating the importance of the moment, saying: “There’s no question that it’s a huge event.”

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