Trump: Confront North Korea and Iran or risk being ‘bystanders in history’

US president Donald Trump’s first speech to the United Nations today will focus on ‘world regimes that threaten security’ 

19 September 2017, 8:24am
US President Donald Trump (Photo: The New Indian Express)
US President Donald Trump (Photo: The New Indian Express)
Donald Trump will use his first address to the UN general assembly to call for international action to confront Iran and North Korea, both of which he plans on portraying as twin threats to global security, said the Whitehouse.

He will warn member states that if they do not move forward to confront these threats, they risk being “bystanders in history”, said a senior White House official.

The senior official went on to say that Trump will sketch out his vision of how states could cooperate in the face of these challenges, without compromising their sovereignty. The official claimed, that in this way, asking other nations to take part in this collective action, is consistent with Trump’s “America First” approach.

“Obviously one of the chief regimes that will be singled out in this regard is the regime of North Korea and all of its destabilising hostile and dangerous behaviour, as well as of course the regime of Iran,” he said.

“And in those two cases as well as others, an appeal to others nations to do their part in confronting these threats, and understanding it is a shared menace and that nations cannot be bystanders in history,” the official added. “And if you don’t confront the threats now, they will only gather force and become more formidable as time passes.”

Trump’s speech will seek to distinguish between the Iranian government and the Iranian population, and the president will suggest that they are at odds.

“One of the strategic implications of the speech is to point out that one of the greatest threats to the status quo in Iran is the Iranian people themselves,” the senior official said.

“So obviously there will be some discussion of the tension the direction the country is currently being run in and the desires of the people and what kind of future they want to have. So there is a lot of strategic thought in the speech in terms of how to separate out the government from the people of Iran.”

The decision to single out North Korea and Iran may draw comparisons with George W Bush’s state of union speech, back in 2002, during which he described North Korea, Iraq and Iran as the “axis of evil”.

Trump’s call to action against Iran is likely to win even less support than Bush’s rallying cry against Iraq, 15 years earlier. Iran signed a deal in 2015 accepting strict curbs on its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief, and the other signatories, the permanent members of the security council and Germany, say that Iran is abiding by the agreement.

The UK, Washington’s key ally in Iraq, has stated repeatedly that it remains committed to the 2015 nuclear deal. Like France, Germany, Russia and China, it will resist any move to bracket Iran together with North Korea.

On the other hand, there is security council consensus that North Korea is a threat to international stability and security. That being said, there are indeed differences between states on how tightly the country should be or can be squeezed economically.

The US called for a complete naval blockade and oil embargo, but neighbour and major trade partner, China, does not want to trigger a regime collapse and therefore resisted.

On Monday, Trump and Xi Jinping agreed “to maximize pressure” on North Korea.

In challenging the viability of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, the US is a lonely voice on the security council. One of Trump’s few allies in his assault on the agreement, Benjamin Netanyahu, met the US president in New York on Monday.

A few hours later, Trump met French president Emmanuel Macron, who made it clear that he would be arguing for the US to keep faith with the nuclear deal.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister, argued the deal was vital to global security.

“It’s essential to maintain it to prevent a spiral of proliferation that would encourage hardliners in Iran to pursue nuclear weapons,” the minister told journalists in New York on the side-lines of this week’s UN general assembly.

Trump’s administration also faces isolation and accusations that it is itself a “bystander to history” by his intention to leave the Paris accord on climate change, which would put the US in the company only of Nicaragua and Syria.