NEW YORK — President Trump on Tuesday will present a vision of U.S. engagement with the world in a maiden address to the United Nations that aides said will be consistent with the nation's "values and traditions" but will not focus on advancing democracy abroad.
This dichotomy of a U.S. leader pledging to shape global conditions to ensure America's prosperity and security without explicitly promoting its way of life is expected to distinguish Trump's speech from those of his White House forebears.
The president's nationalist agenda has led to widespread anxiety among the U.S. allies and partners who have gathered here this week among the more than 150 foreign delegations at the 72nd U.N. General Assembly. Amid mounting global challenges, foreign leaders are carefully watching Trump's moment on the world stage for signals about his willingness to maintain the United States' traditional leadership role.
Although Trump campaigned on a policy of putting “America first” and spoke dismissively of international bodies such as the United Nations and NATO, he has offered a tentative embrace of them as he seeks to rally international support to confront destabilizing threats from North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State.
Trump began several days of diplomacy at the United Nations with a session Monday devoted to reforming the institution — a theme during his outsider presidential campaign and a key demand of some of his conservative supporters. The focus on reducing bureaucracy lent a critical tone to Trump’s debut.
In brief opening remarks, he said the United Nations had not lived up to its billing upon its creation in 1945, asserting that it suffered from a bloated bureaucracy and “mismanagement.” Trump urged his fellow leaders to make reforms aimed at “changing business as usual,” but pledged that his administration would be “partners in your work.”
“Make the United Nations great,” the president told reporters when asked about his message this week, riffing off his campaign slogan. “Not again. Make the United Nations great. Such tremendous potential, and I think we’ll be able to do this.”
White House aides said the address would be consistent with Trump’s foreign policy speeches this year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he challenged other nations to do more in the global fight against terrorism, and in Warsaw, where he warned that Western civilization was under attack.
President Barack Obama used his final U.N. address last year to urge his peers to continue to embrace the multilateral cooperation that had marked the post-World War II era, and to warn of a global retreat into “tribalism” and “building walls” — an implicit reference to Trump just weeks before the 2016 presidential election. Trump campaigned on a pledge to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to curtail immigration.
In the vast U.N. chambers, Trump will give a “clear-eyed” view of the challenges facing the international community and offer a path that is based on “outcomes, not ideology,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the president’s speech.
Trump, as he has before, intends to emphasize the need for other nations to take up more of the burden of providing for their own prosperity and security, rather than relying on the United States.
“It’s a shared risk,” the administration official said. “Nations cannot be bystanders to history.” The aide added that Trump “will talk about the need to work toward common goals. But he will not tell them how to live. He will not tell them what system of government to have. He will ask countries to respect the sovereignty of other nations. That’s the rationale for the basis of cooperation.”
Foreign leaders have sought to influence Trump this week on a range of issues.
Trump’s first meeting with a world leader here was with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a choice meant to underscore the U.S. commitment to Israel and displeasure at what U.S. officials see as systemic anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.
It was also a nod to the open question of U.S. participation in the U.N.-backed nuclear deal with Iran — one of the most pressing issues hanging over the session this year. Netanyahu, who will also address the gathering Tuesday, opposes the international deal and lobbied hard against it during the Obama administration.
“When we look at the agreement, we have reservations,” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, said in an interview. “We should not be the one who will tell our allies what to do and how to do, but we have some hand-on experience.”
Trump, whose administration faces an Oct. 15 deadline to certify whether Tehran has complied with the agreement, said last week that Iran had violated the “spirit” of the deal by supporting terrorism in the Middle East. A statement that Iran is not complying would set off a congressional review of whether to reimpose some U.S. sanctions, which could sunder the deal.
The president believes the deal is “deeply flawed,” said Brian Hook, a State Department official who accompanied Trump in his meetings with foreign leaders Monday. Trump told his foreign counterparts “what he thinks are the shortcomings,” Hook said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who will address the United Nations on Wednesday, told CNN that a U.S. withdrawal would harm American credibility.
“Exiting such an agreement would carry a high cost,” Rouhani said.
The White House said Trump spoke by phone Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is not attending the U.N. meetings, to discuss North Korea’s efforts to “destabilize” Northeast Asia with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Ahead of the meetings, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley lauded the United Nations for a pair of recent votes to enact severe economic sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The sanctions seek to cut off oil imports to the regime of Kim Jong Un — who Trump recently dubbed "Rocket Man" — and block exports from the country.
In another bilateral session Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron pressed Trump to keep the United States in the Paris climate accord. Trump, who told him the deal imposed oppressive regulatory burdens on American businesses, has vowed to withdraw the United States from the agreement at the earliest opportunity, in 2020.
“There is a worrying degradation of the world environment,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a news conference. Without mentioning Trump by name, Le Drian lamented an “increasing breakdown of international cooperation” and “withdrawal out of fear or selfishness.”
Yet as Trump sat down with Macron, he reflected fondly on his official trip to Paris in July to watch a Bastille Day military parade down the Champs-Elysees. This, the president ruminated, would be an import from abroad that has his support.
“It was a tremendous thing,” Trump said. “And to a large extent, because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July Fourth in Washington, down Pennsylvania Avenue. . . . We’re going to have to try and top it.”