President Trump: 'Put Your Countries First'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Just a few minutes ago, President Trump took the stage at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. It was his debut at the U.N. Addressing world leaders, Trump used the words America first. And a lot of world leaders have been waiting to see what he meant by that. He also had some tough talk for North Korea.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Scott Horsley is here to talk us through this speech. And, Scott, totally destroy North Korea. He calls the leader of North Korea rocket man. I mean, the president does not seem to be holding back, at least rhetorically.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: That's right. He offered a spirited indictment of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, not only for his nuclear and missile tests but also his mistreatment of the North Korean people and, of course, his fatal treatment of that American citizen who was held prisoner there for all those months. He certainly threatened a possible military strike but also said he hopes it doesn't come to that. He said this is what the United Nations is for.
He praised the two recent Security Council resolutions tightening the screws on North Korea with additional economic sanctions. He specifically thanked China and Russia for going along with that. But now he says it's up to the international community to enforce those sanctions.
GREENE: And then another country that came up, Scott, is Iran. And this story is a little more complicated, right? I mean, you had President Obama striking this nuclear deal with Iran, President Trump very critical of that deal. But his administration has largely left it in place. What was his message today?
HORSLEY: He was, again, very critical of that nuclear deal. He called it an embarrassment to the United States. But you're right. Just last week, the Trump administration had an opportunity to break with that deal and re-impose economic sanctions on Iran that were released under the deal, and they didn't take that. So there is kind of a difference between the president's rhetoric and his actions when it comes to Iran. He did warn today, though, that you haven't heard the last about that.
GREENE: And also just broadly, I mean, this was potentially an awkward moment for President Trump. He has been so critical of the United Nations. He has also used this term America first, which, you know, at least you hear words like that and it sounds like that the priority is the United States and not working as an international community. How did he address that?
HORSLEY: There were moments in this speech where Donald Trump sounded sort of like any other American president and not like the nationalist leader who has suggested, for example, that the United States should have taken the oil during the Iraq war. There were moments when he defended the international order that grew up after World War II, including the United Nations itself. But he did not back down from that principle of America first.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you as the leaders of your countries will always and should always put your countries first.
HORSLEY: This was a full-throated defense of sovereignty. In briefing reporters in advance of this speech, that was a theme that a senior White House adviser stressed that the president was going to talk a lot about. But he argued that that sovereignty focus is not an impediment to international cooperation, rather it can be the basis of sovereign countries working together to confront common threats like North Korea.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Scott Horsley talking to us about President Trump making his debut, his big speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this morning. And we'll be following that story and having much more coverage throughout the day. Scott, thanks.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.