Trump threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea at United Nations
President Trump addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 19. | Richard Drew / AP

UNITED NATIONS (AP)—President Donald Trump, in a combative debut speech to the U.N. General Assembly, threatened the “total destruction” of North Korea if it does not abandon its drive toward nuclear weapons.

Trump, who has ramped up his rhetoric throughout the escalating crisis with North Korea, told the murmuring crowd at the UN on Tuesday that “it is far past time for the nations of the world to confront” Kim Jong Un and said that Kim’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons” poses a threat to “the entire world with an unthinkable loss of human life.

“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime,” Trump said about the North Korean leader. He said of the U.S.: “If it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Elected on the nationalist slogan “America First,” Trump argued that individual nations should act in their own self-interest, yet rally together when faced with a common threat. Using bellicose language rare for a U.S. president at the rostrum of the United Nations, Trump touched upon hot spots around the globe, declaring, “The scourge of our planet is a group of rogue regimes.”

He declared the Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment” for the United States and vowed to defeat “loser terrorists” who have struck violence across the globe. He denounced “radical Islamic terrorism,” the inflammatory label he has recently shied away from. He warned that some violence-plagued portions of the world “are going to hell.” And he made little mention of Russia.

North Korea drew most of Trump’s attention and anger.

Trump, who has previously warned of “fire and fury” if Pyongyang does not back down, claimed that “no one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea.” And he scolded nations that it was “an outrage” to enable and trade with North Korea, seeming to slight China, though he did not mention it by name.

Addressing the General Assembly is a milestone moment for any president, but one particularly significant for Trump, a relative newcomer to foreign policy who has at times rattled the international community with his unpredictability. He has pulled the Unites States out of multinational agreements, claimed to be considering shrinking the U.S. military footprint in the world, and deployed bombastic language on North Korea that has been criticized by other world leaders.

Trump frequently belittled the UN as a presidential candidate and some within his White House believe the UN acts as a global bureaucracy that infringes on the sovereignty of individual countries. He urged the world leaders to embrace their own “national sovereignty to do more to ensure the prosperity and security of their own countries.”

But the president stood before world leaders and a global audience and declared that UN members, acting as a collection of self-interested nations, should unite to confront global dangers.

“I will always put America first. Just like you, the leaders of your countries, should always put your countries first,” said Trump.

World leaders, many of whom will be seeing Trump in person for the first time, were certain to take the measure of the man and parse his every word for clues on how he views the U.S. role in the world and within the UN. Trump’s remarks produced surprised chatter in the crowd and the North Korean delegation, assigned by lottery to a seat near the front, departed as the president began speaking.

Trump also called the UN-backed Iran nuclear deal “an embarrassment” to the United States and suggested it was “one of the worst” international pacts ever struck. And he hinted that his administration, which has accused Tehran of aiding terrorism in the Middle East, could soon declare Iran out of compliance with the deal, which could unravel it.

“I don’t think you’ve heard the end of it,” Trump said. “Believe me.”

He vowed again to take the fight to terrorists but warned that parts of the Middle East were so plagued by violence and poverty that they were “going to hell.”

He also decried the “disastrous rule” of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, whom he denounced as a “socialist dictator.” Trump urged the UN to intervene in that country.

“It is completely unacceptable and we cannot stand by and watch,” Trump said.

He again chastised the UN for what he said was its bloated budget and bureaucracy. While running for office, Trump had labeled the UN weak and incompetent. He has suggested it was “not a friend” to the United States or democracy while deriding it as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

He spoke often during the presidential campaign about putting “America first,” and has withdrawn from some multilateral agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. He also announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, which would leave the U.S. as one of the few countries outside the pact.

“We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or same systems of government,” Trump said at the UN. He added that he does expect all nations to “respect the interest of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

This story has been edited for length.


Jonathan Lemire
Jonathan Lemire

Jonathan Lemire is White House reporter for Associated Press.

Darlene Superville
Darlene Superville

Darlene Superville is a White House reporter for Associated Press.