NEW YORK – Donald Trump’s first speech at the United Nations trashed the leader of North Korea — “Rocket Man,” he dubbed him — and threatened to “totally destroy” his country, all the while blasting the leaders of Iran, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela.
Tuesday’s speech was notable for its high-level trash-talking if not for its choice of targets, which were standard for a U.S. president. It’s unlikely many other presidents would have used the world’s premier international stage to bestow a nickname like the one Trump levelled at Kim Jong Un.
“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” the U.S. president told the UN General Assembly hall.
“No nation on Earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea…
“The United States is ready, willing and able. But hopefully, this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about. That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.”
He actually thanked the UN for its work in levelling economic sanctions on North Korea, and saluted the role played by China and Russia. Then he went on to attack the regime in Iran and its nuclear deal with predecessor Barack Obama, Cuba’s Castro government and the socialists in Venezuela, whom he accused of ruining a country with a failed ideology.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to New York later Tuesday, and will deliver his UN address Thursday. He happened to be holding a news conference in Ottawa while Trump was speaking.
“I look forward to seeing his speech myself,” he said when asked about the threat against North Korea.
He said he shared the world’s concern over North Korea’s reckless behaviour, and that working with partners around the world — including China, Japan, South Korea and the United States — remains the best way to de-escalate from the standoff.
Trudeau was asked whether it’s time to re-consider participating in the U.S. missile shield. Under the current system, Canadian military personnel sit in the same room as U.S. colleagues in Colorado and monitor the skies for threats.
The decision about whether and when to try to shoot down an incoming rocket belongs to the U.S. alone. Canada refused to join the program under Paul Martin’s Liberal government.
“We have not changed our position at this point,” Trudeau said. “But we continue to engage in thoughtful ways to ensure we’re doing everything we can and must do to keep Canadians safe.”
The prime minister is scheduled to receive an award for global citizenship when he arrives for three days of events in New York City. He will be honoured by the Atlantic Council think tank for his support for international trade and diversity.
Queen Rania of Jordan will introduce the prime minister, while IMF president Christine Lagarde introduces another one of the recipients, South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
On Wednesday, Trudeau will attend an event on development with Melinda Gates and a business forum at Bloomberg News before delivering a speech to 6,000 people at a youth event at Madison Square Garden.
Trudeau is scheduled to address the general assembly on Thursday.
Trump’s speech included some of the “America First” nationalist themes of his presidency. He began the speech by extolling the virtues of the nation-state, and urged a non-interventionist mentality.
“In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch,” he said. “In foreign affairs, we are renewing this founding principle of sovereignty…
“We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea… The scourge of our planet today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate every principle on which the United Nations is based.”
He complained that the U.S. pays 22 per cent of the UN’s budget, which he called unfair, but he added: “If (the UN) could actually accomplish all of its stated goals, especially the goal of peace, this investment would easily be well worth it.”