Trump takes UN Security Council gavel, knocks Iran further
UNITED NATIONS, (STEVE HERMAN-VOANEWS).- Taking the gavel of the Security Council at the United Nations on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump devoted the bulk of his remarks on the theme of nonproliferation to criticism of Iran.
Labeling Iran the "world's leading sponsor of terrorism," Trump claimed that "Iran's aggression only increased" after the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was signed. The Trump administration withdrew from the deal earlier this year.
Trump repeated his frequent assertion that the JCPOA, reached under his predecessor, Barack Obama, was a "horrible, one-sided" deal benefiting Iran.
"They needed cash," Trump said. "We gave it to them."
Trump added that Iran, "a regime with this track record, must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon," and warned that Washington would pursue even tougher sanctions against Tehran.
Speaking immediately after Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron said there needed to be a long-term strategy to manage the Iran issue and that it could not be done with just sanctions and containment.
Macron added that all countries shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Speaking at a news conference shortly after the Security Council session, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the meeting, which he did not attend, showed how isolated the United States was in its decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal.
"And today in the U.N. Security Council it became clear that America is alone," Rouhani told reporters. "All the countries that spoke in the U.N. Security Council supported the JCPOA, either directly or indirectly, and referred to the American action as an incorrect action."
Rouhani dismissed additional sanctions Trump said would go into effect in early November, saying there was "not much left" for the U.S. to do. He urged nations to "trample upon" the sanctions and ignore them, because they would be "illegal" and would contradict the U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal as international law.
Commitment to preservation
"The most important substance of the discussion is that nearly all other council members reiterated their commitment to preserving the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, despite U.S. opposition, while several members (notably the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Sweden) expressed their strong concern about Iran’s other destabilizing activities," said Thomas Countryman, former assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation and now chair of the board of the directors of the Arms Control Association.
In addition to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, Trump — in his remarks on the stated theme of the council's meeting — said, "We must never forget the risk posed by biological and chemical weapons."
The U.S. president noted action he had taken to respond to Syria's use of chemical weapons against civilians during that country's protracted civil war and said, "The Syrian regime's butchery is enabled by Russia and Iran."
But Trump expressed gratitude to Iran, Russia and Syria for slowing attacks in Idlib, saying, "Get the terrorists, but I hope the restraint continues."
Trump told the Security Council that "many things are happening behind the scenes" between the United States and North Korea as they pursue denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Trump predicted that very good news would be coming out of North Korea "in coming days and years."
Earlier Wednesday, Trump said his administration was planning a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"I'll be meeting with Chairman Kim," Trump told reporters arriving at the General Assembly. He said a date and location would be announced soon.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was planning the summit and that it might take place after October. The State Department announced Pompeo would visit Pyongyang next month.
"We're working diligently to make sure we get the conditions right so that we can accomplish as much as possible during the summit. But we hope it will be soon," Pompeo told the program CBS This Morning. "It may happen in October, but more likely sometime after that."
Pompeo's remarks came one day after Trump touted his relationship with North Korea, telling the General Assembly it had helped ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
"The missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction, nuclear testing has stopped; some military facilities are already being dismantled," Trump said.
Trump added that "much work remains to be done" with North Korea and said, "The sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization occurs."
His comments about North Korea were in sharp contrast to those he delivered at the assembly last year, when he threatened to "totally destroy" the country and ridiculed Kim as "Rocket Man," saying he was on a "suicide mission."
South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, personally relayed a message to Trump on Monday, telling him that Kim wanted to meet him again soon to make progress on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Wednesday's Security Council meeting, with a U.S. president taking the gavel for only the third time (Obama did it twice), came one day after Trump called on world leaders during his address before the General Assembly to "isolate Iran's regime as long as its aggression continues."
Margaret Besheer and Wayne Lee contributed to this report.
Steve Herman is VOA's White House Bureau Chief.