In First UN General Assembly Address, Trump Slams ‘Murderous Regime’ in Iran, Casts Further Doubt on JCPOA
by Ben Cohen
US President Donald Trump used the occasion of his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly to announce a profound shift in American foreign policy — most notably on Iran, which once against finds itself cast as a rogue nation, following the relative honeymoon years of President Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House.
Trump slammed the Islamic Republic, declaring that it was “past time to confront” the “murderous regime” in Tehran, and making clear his deep distaste for the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “[W]e cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said.
Iran’s leaders spoke “openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room,” the president noted. Iran stood “in stark contrast to the recent commitments of many of its neighbors to fight terrorism and halt its financing.” Trump accused the Iranian government of “masking a corrupt dictatorship under the guise of a democracy,” condemning Tehran for using “its oil profits…to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors,” alongside its backing for the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria — decried by Trump as a “criminal regime” that had used illegal chemical weapons against its own civilians, adults and children alike.
“It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction,” Trump said. “It is time for the regime to free all Americans and citizens of other nations that they have unjustly detained. And above all, Iran’s government must stop supporting terrorists, begin serving its own people, and respect the sovereign rights of its neighbors.”
In a further barb at the Iranian regime, Trump said that the “entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most.”
Those countries concerned that Trump will not recertify the Iran nuclear deal on October 15 — a legally-mandated process that takes place every 90 days — will have gleaned little comfort from his speech to the 72nd session of the General Assembly. Describing the 2015 deal as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions,” the president lambasted it as an “embarrassment to the US.”
“I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me,” Trump continued, before an audience that included representatives of France, Germany and the United Kingdom – all of whom have voiced dismay at the prospect of the JCPOA potentially being cast aside next month.
Trump took aim at other authoritarian regimes as well, lampooning North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un as a “rocket man on a suicide mission.” The president warned that if Pyongyang continued with its nuclear provocations, the US would “have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
In other significant departures from his predecessor, Trump condemned the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, confirming that the lifting of US sanctions on Cuba would be dependent on major political reform. He accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of starving his own people, drawing both murmurs of disapproval and scattered applause when he remarked that the “problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”
But it was on the Middle East that the difference in tone and emphasis with the previous administration was most pronounced. While Trump’s administration has invested a great deal of time in renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the issue was strikingly absent from the president’s speech, with his focus on the larger region instead. As well as Iran, Trump was uncompromising on the issue of terror and countries that support terror. After highlighting recent victories against ISIS, Trump stated that the aim of the US was to “crush the loser terrorists” and prevent them from launching terror attacks from safe havens.
“We will hold responsible those countries who finance Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and the Taliban,” Trump declared, naming both Sunni and Shia Islamist organizations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with Trump on Monday, was fulsome in his praise of the president’s address, commenting, “I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech.”
PM Netanyahu on @POTUS Trump's speech at #UNGA: In over 30 years in my experience w/ the UN I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) September 19, 2017
PM: @POTUS spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a call to confront them to ensure the future of humanity.
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) September 19, 2017
Trump also articulated his vision of a world order based upon “strong sovereign and independent nations rooted in their histories and invested in their destinies.” Quoting the observation of the second president of the United States, John Adams, that the American revolution took place first in the hearts and minds of the American people, Trump called for a new spirit of patriotism that honors sacrifices for “our fellow citizens, our country, and all that is best in the human spirit.”