Need a breather: US President Donald Trump, who boasted about his administration’s achievements, pauses as he addresses the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday. Picture:REUTERS
Need a breather: US President Donald Trump, who boasted about his administration’s achievements, pauses as he addresses the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday. Picture:REUTERS

New York — US President Donald Trump called on the rest of the world to isolate Iran and said a US campaign of "economic pressure" would turn back the Islamic Republic’s aggression, in his second address to the UN General Assembly.

Trump declared that the US, under his leadership, had achieved new economic and military heights. While he ran for office on a promise to "Make America Great Again", he said his accomplishments would benefit the world.

"We’re standing up for America and the American people, and we’re also standing up for the world," he said.

Iran took the place of North Korea as the principal antagonist in Trump’s address. While he had replaced "the spectre of conflict" with North Korea "with a bold and new push for peace", tensions with Iran have grown since the 2015 nuclear deal signed by former president Barack Obama, Trump said.

"We ask all nations to isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues," he said.

The country’s regime used proceeds from the accord to increase its military budget 40% and strengthen the repression of its people, Trump said, calling the deal "a windfall" for the country’s leaders.

'Chaos, death and destruction'

"Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction," Trump said. "Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem in the Middle East and far beyond."

But after threatening to "totally destroy" North Korea in his UN speech in 2017, Trump was not as bellicose towards Tehran. "The US has launched a campaign of economic pressure to deny the regime funds it needs to advance its bloody agenda," he said.

Trump began by boasting of his administration’s accomplishments and the strength of the US economy since his election, echoing the campaign speeches he delivers at US rallies. The remarks prompted laughter from the audience.

"Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK," Trump said.

He described a US foreign policy he called "principled realism" that would at times reject conventional thinking about international relations. He said US foreign aid would go only "to those who respect us and who are, frankly, are our friends.

"We will not be held hostage to old dogmas, discredited ideologies and so-called experts who have been proven wrong over the years, time and time again," he said.

He singled out China for "abuse" in its trade practices and said countries in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries "are, as usual, ripping off the rest of the world. We defend many of these nations for nothing," he complained.

"We are not going to put up with it, these horrible processes, much longer," he said.

Trump said the US was the largest provider of foreign aid, "but few give anything to us. That is why we are taking a hard look at foreign assistance."

Before his speech, Trump tamped down any speculation of a meeting with Iran’s leader. "Despite requests, I have no plans to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Maybe someday in the future," Trump wrote on Twitter. "I am sure he is an absolutely lovely man!"

As he entered the UN, he told reporters: "We look forward to having a great relationship with Iran but it won’t happen now."

Iranian officials say they have not sought a meeting with Trump and would not agree to one. Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the idea of a meeting a "frenetic dream" of Trump and his top officials that "will never turn [to] reality", according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Trump’s speech repeated 2017’s theme of "sovereignty" as a paramount virtue for nations.

"The US will not tell you how to live or work or worship," he said. "We only ask that you honour our sovereignty in return."

Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord while signing an agreement in principle with North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme. His "maximum pressure" moniker — previously describing a series of global sanctions against North Korea — has now been fitted to the administration’s approach to Iran.

"We’ve imposed very stringent sanctions on Iran. More are coming," national security adviser John Bolton told reporters on Monday at the UN General Assembly. "And what we expect from Iran is massive changes in their behaviour. And until that happens, we will continue to exert what the president has called ‘maximum pressure’."

On Wednesday Trump is scheduled to host a UN Security Council session focused on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by Iran and other countries.

"You can bet the president will have … strong words for the Iranian regime, which is among the worst of violators of UN Security Council resolutions, if not the absolute worst in the world," secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Monday.

Iran’s Rouhani said in an interview with NBC News on Monday that Trump’s pressure campaign would not bring his government to the negotiating table. The US would have to first rejoin the nuclear accord negotiated by Trump’s predecessor, Obama, he said.

"That bridge must be rebuilt," he said. Meanwhile, Iran can withstand US sanctions, Rouhani said, calling the Trump administration’s threats to choke off his country’s oil exports an "empty promise".

"The US is not capable of bringing our oil exports to zero," he told NBC.

In addition to Trump’s speech and the Security Council session, Bolton and Pompeo were due to address an event on Tuesday afternoon organised by a group called United Against a Nuclear Iran.

The state department will host an event on Friday morning to "call for supporting human rights in Iran". This will feature former Iranian political prisoners and several Trump administration officials.

Less bellicose

Trump’s criticism of Iran was not as abrasive as his 2017 UN address, when he branded North Korea’s Kim Jong-un "Rocket Man" and threatened to annihilate the country.

Since that speech, Trump has claimed credit for an easing of tensions between the US and North Korea, which has not tested ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons since late 2017. Trump and Kim have both said that they are eager for a second summit.

Trump spent much of the speech laying out his "America First" world view, including his assertion that all world leaders should put their countries first as sovereign nations. He has framed his decision to pull out of the Iran deal — which retains the support of several US allies and the imprimatur of a UN Security Council resolution — as an issue of US sovereignty.

In the past year, he has moved to limit the US’s role in multilateral institutions, pulling the country from the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. He has levied tariffs on several US trading partners, threatened to withdraw from the World Trade Organisation and warned the International Criminal Court that its officials would be sanctioned if it prosecutes Americans.

Trump said the US will not return to the Human Rights Council "until real reform is enacted".