UNITED NATIONS — President Donald Trump on Monday opened his first visit to the United Nations since taking office with a polite but firm call for the 72-year-old institution to overhaul itself and a veiled threat to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement.
In a meeting with counterparts from around the world, Trump said the U.N. had grown too bureaucratic and ineffective and should reorient its approach. He complained that spending and the staff at the U.N. had grown enormously over the years but that “we are not seeing the results in line with this investment.”
Still, he pledged U.S. support for the world body he had excoriated as a candidate, and his criticisms were more restrained than in years past.
“That’s why we commend the secretary-general and his call for the United Nations to focus more on people and less on bureaucracy,” Trump said, with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sitting beside him. “We seek a United Nations that regains the trust of the people around the world. In order to achieve this, the United Nations must hold every level of management accountable, protect whistleblowers and focus on results rather than on process.”
He added that any overhaul should ensure that no single member “shoulders a disproportionate share of the burden, and that’s militarily or financially,” a sore point for many American conservatives who bristle at the share of U.N. costs borne by the United States. Trump said nothing about whether he would pursue his proposal to cut U.S. funding for the organization.
The United States is the largest contributor to the U.N. budget, reflecting its position as the world’s largest economy. It pays 25 percent of the U.N.’s regular operating budget and over 28 percent of the separate peacekeeping budget.
The short remarks at a forum on U.N. overhauls were a precursor to today’s main event, when Trump will address the U.N. General Assembly for the first time, a speech awaited by world leaders concerned about what the president’s “America first” vision means for the future of the world body.
Trump riffed on his campaign slogan when asked to preview his central message to the General Assembly, saying: “I think the main message is ‘make the United Nations great’ — not ‘again.’ ‘Make the United Nations great.'”
“Such tremendous potential, and I think we’ll be able to do this,” he added.
But even as the president chastised the U.N., he pledged that the United States would “be partners in your work” to make the organization a more effective force for peace across the globe.
He later met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the first of a string of sessions he will conduct with counterparts during four days in New York, and used the occasion to once again hint that he could pull out of the Iran deal negotiated by President Barack Obama, the other four permanent members of the Security Council and Germany. Netanyahu planned to press Trump to either revise the agreement or scrap it.
Asked by reporters whether he would withdraw, Trump said, “You’ll see very soon. You’ll be seeing very soon.” He added: “We’re talking about it constantly. Constantly. We’re talking about plans constantly.”
The meeting with Netanyahu was followed by another with President Emmanuel Macron of France where the two traded warm words and recalled Trump’s visit to a Bastille Day military parade in Paris in July. He mused about ordering up a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington to rival the one he witnessed in Paris.
Trump also hosted a dinner Monday night with leaders of Brazil, Colombia, Panama and Argentina. Venezuela’s deepening economic and political crisis was under discussion.
The U.S. president also lashed out against Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, calling his presidency “disastrous.” He said that people in Venezuela “are starving and the country is collapsing.”
The U.S. “has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable, and we’re prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on a path to imposing authoritarian rule,” Trump said. He thanked the Latin American leaders for “condemning the regime.”
Brazil’s President Michel Temer said all leaders “agreed on maintaining pressure on Venezuela’s government” but that further sanctions on the country should be “verbal.”
FOCUS ON IRAN
The president has until mid-October to certify under a U.S. law whether Iran is complying with the deal, a certification he has made twice already this year but that he has told advisers he does not want to make again. If he were to refuse to do so, it could potentially unravel the agreement.
The meeting with Netanyahu focused on Iran, although Trump also repeated his commitment to finding peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. “I think there’s a good chance that it could happen,” he said. “Most people would say there’s no chance whatsoever.” He will meet with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday.
Trump and Netanyahu discussed Iran’s “malign activities” in the Middle East and spoke about the need to prevent Iran from establishing any deep roots or organizing in Syria, according to a readout provided by Brian Hook of the State Department.
In a harsh message to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors compliance with the nuclear agreement, Trump on Monday warned that the United States could withdraw if the accord is not properly policed. “We will not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal,” Trump said in a message read by Rick Perry, the energy secretary, at the agency’s annual meeting in Vienna, according to news reports.
The United States asserts that Iran is obligated to open its military sites to agency inspection on demand if the agency suspects unreported nuclear activities at any of them. That’s something Tehran rejects, and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi urged the agency and its head, Yukiya Amano, to “resist such unacceptable demands.”
Iran has accused Trump of failing to comply with the deal by undercutting it and slapping sanctions on Tehran for other activities such as ballistic missile tests, an assertion it repeated in Vienna on Monday.
“The American administration’s overtly hostile attitude and actual foot-dragging policies and measures aim at undermining the nuclear deal and blocking Iran’s legitimate benefits from its full implementation,” Salehi said, according to news reports.
The U.S. stance has worried allies such as France, as well as Russia.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that tearing up the accord would be a blow to efforts to limit nuclear proliferation and “we’re trying to convince President Trump of the pertinence of this view.” All the signs are that Iran is respecting its obligations under the deal, he said at a press conference in New York.
When asked about the U.S. leader and Macron’s meeting with him, Le Drian said France would stress the value of the Iran deal for nuclear nonproliferation and international security. He suggested that France may be open to an extension of nuclear limits on Iran past 2025, one of the main demands of critics of the deal.
“I’ll try to convince President Trump,” that the deal can be rigorously enforced now, Le Drian said. Even if a follow-on deal or other changes are contemplated, “we need to acknowledge the validity of the agreement as it is.”
Russia opposes any renegotiation of the Iranian nuclear agreement, said a senior member of the Russian delegation to the U.N. meeting. “To go back on an agreement that was the result of colossal diplomatic efforts without any justification just because the new U.S. president doesn’t like it would be extremely dangerous,” Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian upper house of parliament, told reporters in New York.
WORDS TONED DOWN
The president’s comments to the U.N. meeting on Monday morning lasted only four minutes and included none of the criticism he had directed at foreign institutions in the past. As recently as December, after winning the presidential election but before being sworn in, Trump dismissed the U.N. as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”
The tension has gone both ways. Last month, the U.N. human rights chief chastised Trump for his repeated attacks on the news media, saying that they could incite violence and set a bad example for other countries.
No mention was made during Trump’s opening appearance Monday of the global crises that the U.N. has rung alarm bells about: attacks on the Rohingya minority in Burma, climate change, the nuclear threat in North Korea, and a record 65 million people displaced from their homes.
Aides have said Trump’s address today will stress “sovereignty and accountability,” a contrast to his predecessors who used the annual occasion to rally joint action on issues like terrorism, weapons proliferation and climate change.
The cooperative relationship — at least in a few key areas — can be attributed to the relationship forged between two seasoned politicians: U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor, and Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who, like Trump, took office in January. While many UN officials watched with horror as the Trump administration vowed to slash spending on foreign aid, including the UN, by about one-third, Guterres and Haley found a way to target troubled peacekeeping efforts.
Those programs, in countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, had long been criticized for not protecting civilians and, in some cases, sexually exploiting the very populations they were meant to defend.
Source : Democratic Gazette