“The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots,” Trump said. “The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors and honor the differences that make each country special and unique.”
Trump’s speech before the United Nations — a group founded on the principle that multilateral cooperation can stop international conflicts — underscored that his administration sees little benefit in assuming much of the global leadership responsibility embraced by his predecessors.
In his 37-minute address, Trump stressed that all nations must take care of themselves first while adding that the United States would get involved abroad only when its own interests were threatened.
He also used his platform Tuesday to take a hard line against Iran as tensions between the two countries escalate following an attack on a Saudi oil facility this month.
The United States — joined by Britain, France and Germany this week — has blamed Iran for the attack on the oil facility, and during Tuesday’s address, Trump called Iran “one of the greatest security threats facing peace-loving nations today.”
“All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s bloodlust,” Trump said. “As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened.”
But Trump’s reluctance to escalate the standoff with Tehran into a military confrontation was on display later Tuesday when he teased a potential meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, saying that Iran “would like to negotiate” but that the two sides had not agreed to that “yet.”
For most of his address, Trump highlighted his nationalist perspective in a multitude of areas, particularly trade and immigration — two issues that helped catapult him into the White House.
On immigration, Trump issued his characteristic warnings to migrants from Central America making the journey to the U.S. southern border, saying, “If you make it here, you will not be allowed in; you will be promptly returned home.”
His message for those who he claims advocate “open border” policies was more stark.
“Your policies are not just. Your policies are cruel and evil,” Trump said. “You put your own false sense of virtue before the lives, well-being and countless innocent people. When you undermine border security, you are undermining human rights and human dignity.”
He said the United States had worked with several countries in Central America and highlighted El Salvador, which signed an “asylum cooperation agreement” last week with the United States in an attempt to divert some of the record numbers of U.S.-bound migrants. Trump is scheduled to meet with the country’s president, Nayib Bukele, on Wednesday.
Trump said the United States has an “ambitious campaign to reform international trade” and stressed his desire to complete separate bilateral trade agreements with Britain and Japan. He discussed the issue with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday, and trade is sure to surface when Trump sits down with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday — particularly as Japanese concerns over auto tariffs are now stalling a deal between the two countries.
“For decades, the international trading system has been easily exploited by nations acting in bad faith,” the president said. “As jobs were outsourced, a small handful grew wealthy at the expense of the middle class.”
Trump said his approach to trade can be best understood through his policies toward China, a country with which the United States is embroiled in an escalating trade war.
China, the president said, has “embraced an economic model dependent on massive market barriers, heavy state subsidies, currency manipulation, product dumping, forced technology transfers and a theft of intellectual property.” He called for an overhaul of the World Trade Organization, arguing that China should not be able to use it to “game the system at others’ expense.”
“I will not accept a bad deal for the American people,” Trump said.
His address Tuesday came as he is under mounting scrutiny over his purported attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his family — revelations that prompted Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to announce Tuesday that the House will launch a formal impeachment inquiry into the president.
As he arrived at the United Nations on Tuesday, Trump was engulfed by questions about why he withheld nearly $400 million in military aid for the small Eastern European democracy at least a week before a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump is said to have raised the idea of launching a probe into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine.
Trump is scheduled to meet with Zelensky on Wednesday and said a transcript of the July call would be released before that meeting.
Although the controversy involving Ukraine has overshadowed Trump’s agenda during his visit to the United Nations this year, one development that could draw some attention away from it would be a face-to-face encounter with Rouhani.
Trump had played down the prospect of such a meeting for days, but his tone changed Tuesday.
“They would like to negotiate. We haven’t really worked that out. They’re here, we’re here, but we have not agreed to that yet. But they would like to negotiate,” he said. “And it would certainly make sense, but we have not agreed to that yet.”
He also suggested that he has given some thought to the format of a possible sit-down. “We’re here. We’re in New York together, and we have the time to do it.”
For his part, Rouhani was much more downcast on the prospects of a meeting, telling Fox News in an interview that Trump took away the “mutual trust” between the two nations when he withdrew from the nuclear accord negotiated by the Obama administration.
Trump would be the first U.S. president to meet with an Iranian leader since before the 1979 revolution that launched the Islamic republic and its clerical leadership. Direct diplomacy with Iran has long appealed to Trump, as he pursues a dual strategy of tightening sanctions and leaving a door open to talks.
The president spoke Tuesday of possible intercessions or support for talks from French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Trump continues to tap everyone and their mother as an intermediary to persuade Iran to return to talks,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Showing an openness to diplomacy is one thing. Demonstrating desperation for a deal is quite another.”
In his U.N. address, Trump hit on several topics that have become familiar refrains back home and during his campaign rallies — but delivered Tuesday in a much more subdued fashion.
He touted unemployment rates for minority Americans and highlighted his diplomatic efforts with dictators such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Trump also criticized the influence of social media companies, saying they play too much of a role in silencing voices — echoing a critique by some conservatives.
And as he referenced the turmoil in Venezuela, Trump took the opportunity to swipe at socialism, calling it the “wrecker of nations and destroyer of societies.”
“Socialism and communism are about one thing only: power for the ruling class,” he said. “Today, I repeat a message for the world that I have delivered at home: America will never be a socialist country.”
The president also emphasized his desire to limit U.S. military engagement around the world.
“The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation,” Trump said. “We desire peace, cooperation and mutual gain with all. But I will never fail to defend America’s interests.”