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Trump Addresses U.N. General Assembly With Tough Talk On Korea


President Trump has just finished addressing world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly. In an address to that international body, the president said there is no substitute for sovereign, independent nations. He also had some harsh words, some very harsh words for North Korea.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

GREENE: Let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith now. And, Tam, Rocket Man. I guess sometimes the president tests language out in a tweet and then we hear it days later in a speech.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yeah. You're referring to a tweet, a statement on Twitter that he put out over the weekend. Now it shows up here in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly. But Rocket Man is not the most notable thing he said right there in that clip. He also said that the U.S., if it had to, would destroy North Korea. Here is the president of the United States on the floor of the U.N. General Assembly threatening the destruction of another nation.


TRUMP: As president of the United States, I will always put America first. Just like you as the leaders of your countries will always and should always put your countries first.

GREENE: I guess they're not - not talking specifically about North Korea but bringing up the fact that - and these are two words, America First, that the president has used before. But in this setting, I mean, saying that that is the priority, I mean, that's what world leaders were waiting to hear, how he would address that.

KEITH: Yeah. And this is how he did it. This is how he's done it in other parts of the world. This is how he has sort of talked about it in NATO as well, the idea that, you know, America First - you should all put your countries first. Of course you put - all put your countries first, but also then he's making an argument here. While talking about sovereignty, he's also saying some nations are not doing things the way they should be. And he's also saying that as a world community that - that countries need to come together to counter what he sees as sort of rogue elements or threats to security and stability.

GREENE: Rogue elements and threats like North Korea, and also he brings up Iran. But this is more complicated, right, Tam? This is a country that there is this nuclear deal that was brokered by the Obama administration to limit its nuclear capability that the Trump administration, while the president has been critical, has largely kept that deal intact for now. So how did he navigate that?

KEITH: Well, he was critical of it once again using rather Trumpian language. Let's hear.


TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don't think you've heard the last of it. Believe me.

KEITH: And there is another chance. This - this deal needs to sort of constantly be renewed and checked, and the next sort of deadline for that is the middle of October. So all - so far there's been a lot of bluster from President Trump. Middle of October will be another opportunity to see if he plans to take some action.

GREENE: And, Tam, I was struck because there - there were a couple moments of light applause, one of them actually when the president said, as you mentioned, that all nations should put their own nations first. But this was so different than the kind of setting where we see President Trump comfortable in front of his base supporters and cheering crowds. This was a lot of stone-faced diplomats.

KEITH: Absolutely, who were - many of them listening to translation so they were on, like, a tape delay so the applause wouldn't come immediately anyway. And - and this was the president reading from a teleprompter, which is something that he does at his rallies, but then he goes off script. He didn't go off script this time. There was a moment, though, in this speech to world leaders where he sounded more like rally Trump or more like the presidential candidate than someone speaking to a bunch of world leaders. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: For too long, the American people were told that mammoth multinational trade deals, unaccountable international tribunals and powerful global bureaucracies were the best way to promote their success. But as those promises flowed, millions of jobs vanished and thousands of factories disappeared.

KEITH: So that is - that is President Trump saying - and, you know, he did pull out of the Transpacific Partnership trade deal and he has this very strong view that he's had for a long time that unilateral deals, bilateral deals are - make more sense than multilateral deals. But the reality is much of the rest of the world is still moving ahead on these larger multilateral trade deals.

GREENE: And briefly, Tam, as we were setting up this speech, we were kind of looking at it as the biggest foreign-policy speech potentially of this presidency so far. Did it - did you feel that gravity?

KEITH: It was a big foreign-policy speech. He's given a couple of other big ones. Well, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Poland, both earlier this year and both similar in tone, in fact.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Tamara Keith covering President Trump's speech before the United Nations General Assembly this morning. Tam, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.