Politics

Trump Threatens to ‘Destroy’ North Korea

President warns Pyongyang at UN address

A North Korean ballistic missile during “Victory Day” parade in 2013. (Stefan Krasowski/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

The United States is prepared to “totally destroy” North Korea unless Kim Jong Un’s government gives up its nuclear arms and missile programs, President Donald Trump told the United Nations on Tuesday.

“We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” unless it changes its behavior, Trump said in his address to the U.N. General Assembly. The president described Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs as a threat to the United States and its allies. He did not give North Korea a deadline before he deploys U.S. military troops to carry out his threat.

Trump repeated his mocking nickname for Kim from a weekend tweet, saying, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

He called North Korea part of a group of “rogue” countries that are the biggest threat to U.S. and global security, saying no other regime on the planet has “more contempt for its own people” than the Kim dynasty. He accused it of “torture and oppression” of its citizens.

Watch: Trump’s Threat to North Korea in U.N. Address

China’s role

In a veiled shot at China, which is skipping the U.N. General Assembly meetings, Trump said it was an “outrage” that some countries still trade with North Korea. (China is North Korea’s largest trading partner by far, according to data compiled by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other organizations.)

He also criticized countries that provide military equipment to the Hermit Kingdom, in another shot across Beijing’s bow.

A major theme of the 45th president’s speech was that countries should re-establish their own sovereignty and act on the global stage in strict adherence to their own interests — rather than forcing their ideologies or preferred outcomes on countries and situations that only slightly affect their interests.

He cast the North Korean threat within that philosophy, saying it is in no country’s interest for Pyongyang to continue developing its long-range missiles and nuclear arms programs. And he called out the other world leaders in the hall to help him find a solution that will avoid another war on the Korean Peninsula.

“Hopefully, this will not be necessary,” Trump said of his threat to destroy North Korea. “That is what the United Nations is all about. That is what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.”

His overall message was for a “renewal of nations” that put their own citizens, domestic prosperity, security and sovereignty above all else — and he said that is the prism he will use when making foreign policy decisions as America’s chief executive.

Trump’s speech was dovish in that way, very much a reflection of his “America First” governing philosophy. But the address also illustrated the hawkish side of Trump’s populism: When he deems a group or another country a threat to the United States, he made clear he will confront them.

The Iranian threat

North Korea is an example. Iran is another.

Trump blasted Iran for supporting violent extremist groups, and left no doubt that he is not satisfied with the level to which Tehran is living up to the nuclear deal it struck with the Obama administration and other world powers.

U.N. members cannot allow Iran to continue its support of violent groups while it also is building “dangerous missiles,” Trump said.

And he said the United States and its allies should not “abide by an agreement” if it gives Tehran “cover” to covertly continue a nuclear arms program. He called the deal the Obama administration spearheaded “one of the worst and one-sided transactions” in American history.

“That deal is an embarrassment to the United States,” Trump said. “And I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.”

Senior White House aides say he will soon make a decision on whether he believes Tehran is living up to its side of the accord.

Trump echoed past U.S. presidents by saying Iran operates under “the guise of democracy,” and lauded the “good people” that want change but fear the often tough-handed government there.

He grouped North Korea and Iran into a group of “rogue regimes” he called “the scourge of our planet.”

Critics respond

But Trump’s critics reacted immediately on Twitter to point out what they saw as a big contradiction in his remarks.

“Trump tries to summon world to collectively confront North Korea in one breath, then mocks its efforts to prevent a nuclear Iran in the next,” wrote Brian Fallon, a former top aide to top Democrats Hillary Clinton and now-Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

Ben Rhodes, a former national security official and spokesman in the Obama White House, warned that Trump at the U.N. was “totally alienating the US from our allies and taking a position that will have no global support.”

After the speech concluded, Rhodes added another warning on Twitter: “It’s year 1 of Trump presidency. Hard to overstate the damage he could do to the world and US leadership if he acts on his belligerent words.”

Other targets

Trump also addressed the “socialist Maduro regime” in Venezuela, a country he said in August he was reviewing military options to confront.

On Tuesday, Trump said his administration is “prepared to take further action” if President Nicolas Maduro’s government continues its hard-line tactics against its own people. He did not define what kind of action that might be.

And for the second consecutive day, Trump called for a U.N. overhaul. He contended the United States pays 22 percent of the organization’s budget; then he said it’s really even more than that.

“We pay far more than anyone realizes,” he said.

The populist American president called the arrangement an “unfair cost burden” on the American people” But if the U.N. “could accomplish all of its stated goals … this investment would be worth it,” the former New York real estate tycoon and businessman said.

In his typical blunt and often-gloomy way, Trump said, “Some parts of the world are going to hell,” adding that the American people hope the U.N. “can be a more effective advocate for freedom.”

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