President Donald Trump reasserted U.S. independence Tuesday before an international audience at the United Nations General Assembly, describing a “stronger, safer and a richer country” under his watch but drawing laughter when he touted his successes.
“In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump said in opening his address.
The chamber filled with chuckles from fellow world leaders.
“Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK,” he responded.
Trump detailed the country’s booming economy and beefed-up military budget.
“The United States is stronger, safer and a richer country than it was when I assumed office less than two years ago,” he said. “We are standing up for America and for the American people. And we are also standing up for the world.”
The president with his second speech from the iconic green-marbled rostrum reiterated that the country under his leadership always would put its interests first. He argued that other nations would do well to protect their own sovereignty. He commended North Korea while condemning Iran, another regime nurturing nuclear ambitions.
“America is governed by Americans,” Trump said. “We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”
Trump was unapologetic about withdrawing the United States from multinational organizations and agreements such as the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Council and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Though his “America first” approach was a theme consistent with last year, his tone on North Korea was a stark contrast.
One year ago, Trump bluntly criticized Pyongyang and said the United States stands ready to “totally destroy North Korea” if forced to defend itself and its allies.
On Tuesday, Trump had only praise for Kim Jong Un, though a deal has yet to be finalized to denuclearize the rogue nation.
“We have engaged with North Korea to replace the specter of conflict with a bold and new push for peace,” Trump said, citing his historic summit last June with Kim in Singapore and thanking Kim for “his courage.”
As evidence of progress, the president noted: “The missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction.” American hostages have been released and the remains of U.S. armed forces members have been returned home, Trump added.
The president and his top diplomats are preparing for a second summit with Kim, though the time and place aren’t yet settled.
Trump saved his scathing rhetoric for the “corrupt dictatorship” of Iran.
“The United States has launched a campaign of economic pressure to deny the regime the funds it needs to advance its bloody agenda,” he said. “We cannot allow a regime that chants ‘death to America’ and that threatens Israel with annihilation to possess the means to deliver a nuclear warhead to any city on Earth.”
North Korea’s Kim is not attending the General Assembly, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is.
Rouhani told NBC News on Monday that he would not meet with Trump, who he accused of hostility. Trump said Tuesday that it was he who would not meet with Rouhani until the regime changed its tone.
Trump additionally condemned Venezuela's socialism, which he said produces “suffering, corruption and decay.”
Trump said he has sealed and continues to pursue bilateral trade deals that are fairer to the United States and called again for other countries to pay their fair share toward multilateral arrangements.
Every country should exercise its right to establish its own immigration policy, he said.
“Only by upholding national borders, destroying criminal gangs, can we break this cycle and establish a real foundation for prosperity,” Trump said.
Trump held bilateral meetings Tuesday with Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who hasn't directly criticized Trump's nationalist approach but has stressed that multilateralism must be prioritized for the sake of international diplomacy. Trump also attended a UN luncheon where he greeted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
On Wednesday, the president is scheduled to chair a UN Security Council meeting on counter-proliferation and host a news conference.
On Thursday, he is set to return to Washington, D.C., where he will confront two major domestic conflicts. He will meet with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who several news outlets reported was preparing to resign or be fired amid fallout from a New York Times story saying he discussed Trump’s removal via the 25th Amendment. Also Thursday, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while they were in high school, will testify before a Senate panel.
Several New York Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Gregory Meeks, took to Twitter on Tuesday to highlight that Trump drew laughs with a portion of his General Assembly speech.
“This guy continues to embarrass us on the global stage,” Jeffries posted. “Please get back on the golf course before you do any more damage to our international reputation.”