(September 26, 2018 / JNS) Addressing the annual U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump touted the reversal of his predecessor’s policies, warning about the Iranian threat, in addition to bashing the U.N. Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court.
Since withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May, the Trump administration has imposed harsher sanctions on the regime—first in August, targeting Iran’s economy, with the next round to pressure Tehran’s energy industry come Nov. 4. In his U.N. address, the president reasserted his tough posture on the Islamic Republic.
“Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations,” he said. “Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves, and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.”
The president continued, saying “the Iranian people are rightly outraged that their leaders have embezzled billions of dollars from Iran’s treasury, seized valuable portions of the economy and looted the people’s religious endowments, all to line their own pockets and send their proxies to wage war.
“We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons,” he added. “We cannot allow a regime that chants death to America and that threatens Israel with annihilation.”
Trump refused to meet with Iranian leaders on the sidelines of the General Assembly, saying that he cannot meet with them until the country changes its behavior.
“It was me who said no, not them,” he told reporters while sitting next to Colombian President Ivan Duque.
‘A grave embarrassment, shielding human-rights abusers’
Trump then slammed the U.N. Human Rights Council, which the United States withdrew from in June due to its anti-Israel bias, in addition to announcing last month that it would cut funding to the body.
“I spoke before this body last year and warned that the U.N. Human Rights Council had become a grave embarrassment to this institution, shielding egregious human-rights abusers while bashing America and its many friends,” said the president. “Our ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, laid out a clear agenda for reform, but despite reported and repeated warnings, no action at all was taken. So the United States took the only responsible course: We withdrew from the Human Rights Council, and we will not return until real reform is enacted.”
Trump further denounced the International Criminal Court, which has come under fire recently for hearing the Palestinian Authority complaints against Israel regarding the 2014 Gaza war, and the construction of neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria.
“The United States will provide no support in recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority,” said Trump. “The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.”
Reactions from the Jewish community
The president’s speech earned praise from groups like the Jewish Policy Center and individual members of the American Jewish community.
“President Trump’s descriptions of Iran, the U.N. Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court were direct and correct,” JPC senior director Shoshana Bryen told JNS. “The UNHRC is a cesspool. The ICC does not afford American citizens the constitutional protections to which we are entitled by our own government.
“And there is no better description of Iran than his: ‘Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction.’ They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations. Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.”
National Council of Young Israel president Farley Weiss said “in addressing the United Nations, President Trump issued a clear and compelling statement of solidarity with the State of Israel. The president’s willingness to stand with Israel and take positions relative to the Jewish state that he knows to be right and just is something that we greatly appreciate.”
Sarah Stern, the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, called Trump’s “excellent speech” the “singular most important speech of his tenure, thus far, outlining a marked departure from those of his predecessor.”
“While President Obama whitewashed the behavior of Iran in an attempt to create the appearance that it is a peace-loving, reasonable country in order to forge the nuclear deal, the actual behavior of Iran since agreeing to the deal has been antithetical to that,” Stern told JNS.
“Everywhere there is warfare, instability and chaos within the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and parts of Saudi Arabia, there are Iranian fingerprints behind it,” she added.
“The president delivered a powerful indictment of Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East, and slammed biased U.N. groups that castigate America and Israel,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It was a speech backed by action over the last year, which made the words more meaningful to the audience.”
“With a couple of important exceptions [‘fair trade,’ making nicer with dictators than democratic allies], Trump’s speech was down-the-line conservative, and especially so his treatment of Tehran and international organizations,” Middle East Forum president Daniel Pipes told JNS. “This conservative came away happy with that.”
But not everyone applauded the U.N. address.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic and attorney Norm Eisen told JNS that the president’s speech was an embarrassment to the United States on the world stage.
“I am no fan of the president’s, but it still pained me to see him openly mocked by the rest of the world,” he said. “He has made himself an international laughing stock with outright lies like the whopper that precipitated the raucous derision. That derogates from the complex pluses and minuses of his messages about the international institutions and issues he purported to evaluate.”
“We would have been better off staying in the Iran deal and working to improve it from within; concessions were on the table when Trump walked away, and he should have taken them,” added Eisen. “The UNHRC has long been a farce, with dictatorships and rights abusers judging Israel by a double standard—but there, too, we are better off staying in and engaging.”
Regarding the ICC, Eisen proposed a specific strategy: “Send observers, talk to the ICC to the extent we can, try to head off the worst potential abuses from that closer proximity and save the threats for down the road if all that fails.”