Twelve months on from his explosive debut on the world’s biggest diplomatic stage, Donald Trump returns to the UN General Assembly on Monday to trumpet a turnaround in ties with last year’s number one enemy, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. But while relations with Kim have improved dramatically, leaders attending the annual gathering at UN headquarters in New York will hear how another of Trump’s adversaries, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, remains beyond the pale for the American president.
After arriving in his hometown on Sunday, Trump has a packed schedule over the next few days, kicking off with a speech about the global drugs trade on Monday.
In addition to his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump has a series of bilateral meetings with allies such as French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Theresa May and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, whom he met with late Sunday.
One of the most closely-watched will be Monday’s meeting with South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, who will brief him on last week’s inter-Korean summit with Kim in Pyongyang.
In his 41-minute speech at the General Assembly in 2017, the US president made clear he wanted to turn the clock back on the last half-century’s growth of global rules and institutions to return to the primacy of the nation-state.
While the implications of his “America First” philosophy rattled many world leaders who sat in the chamber, the main target of his invective was absent.
After months of escalating tensions over advances in the North’s nuclear program, Trump warned Kim that Washington would “totally destroy” North Korea if the US or its allies was attacked.
His colourful description of Kim as a “rocket man” on a “suicide mission” triggered an angry response from Kim, who called Trump “mentally deranged.”
While Kim will again be absent from New York, observers will look for pointers toward a second summit between the US and North Korean leaders since their historic get-together in Singapore in June.
Although he has expressed frustrations in recent months, Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says efforts to persuade Pyongyang to denuclearise are progressing.
“We are hopeful that we can deliver this outcome for the world,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” Pompeo — who has visited Pyongyang three times — will preside over a Security Council meeting Thursday where he will brief members on how the administration can persuade the North to turn its back on nuclear weapons.
He will also defend the Trump administration’s use of sanctions to force change, which has seen Chinese and Russian companies punished for doing business in North Korea.
Trump’s recent predecessors have all failed to bring about a lasting upturn in ties with the North and skepticism remains about whether Kim has taken any concrete steps, but that seems unlikely to deter Trump from pushing toward a follow-up to Singapore. “It doesn’t appear that the Moon Jae-in summit did much more than continue a kind of atmosphere and pageantry leading into President Trump’s next summit,” said Mike Green, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
While Trump will dial down the rhetoric against Kim, there seems to be little prospect of him doing likewise with Rouhani. The US annoyed many of its allies in Europe by pulling out of a deal they jointly negotiated in 2015 that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
US allies in the Middle East, notably Saudi Arabia, have, however, been delighted by Trump’s stance.Several of the president’s top lieutenants will address a meeting on Wednesday billed as a “United Against Nuclear Iran Summit” that will also feature speakers from Arab allies.
Rouhani has organised a press conference at the same time.The White House has not completely closed the door on a Rouhani-Trump meeting and given how things with Kim have turned out, perhaps nothing should be regarded as impossible.
But in a weekend op-ed in The Washington Post, Rouhani charged that Trump’s offer of talks was not “genuine” and came with a list of “openly insulting preconditions.”