On Tuesday, Sept. 25, the president delivered his second speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, raising eyebrows for the second year in a row. While he covered a huge range of issues, few topics or people regarding international affairs were left unaddressed. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump attacked Iran in his UNGA speech, but the president, notably, took it easy on his other major adversary, North Korea.
After his verbal attack on North Korea at the 2017 UNGA, many people were wondering if his 2018 speech would be as dramatic. The president was off to a rocky start in his speech, getting laughed at when he boasted that his administration was the most accomplished in the country's history. But getting to the meat of the issues, Trump brought up America's relationships with key nations: namely Iran and North Korea. While he largely extended an olive branch to Kim Jong-un, he further stirred up tension with the president of Iran.
On Tuesday, Trump, addressing the general assembly, slammed Iran, saying,
Iran's leaders sow chaos, death and destruction they do not respect their neighbors borders or the sovereign rights of nations. ... Iran's leaders plunder the nation's resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the middle east and far beyond.
As it so happens, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard also had some choice public words for the American president, on Tuesday calling him "evil," blaming him for "waging an economic war" on the country.
Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have been feuding for months. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal in May, leaving the other signatories to go it alone. Things reached a boiling point in July when Trump attacked the Middle Eastern leader on Twitter. In response, Rouhani sent a warning to Trump, threatening to close off a major thoroughfare for oil exports.
But in the meantime, an old adversary got a much kinder treatment. Trump, turning to his affairs with Asia, referenced his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June, saying,
Since that meeting, we have already seen a number of encouraging measures that few could have imagined, only a short time ago. The missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction. Nuclear testing has stopped. Some military facilities are already being dismantled. Our hostages have been released, and as promised, the remains of our fallen heroes are being returned home.
Trump also praised his fellow leaders in the UN for their part in aiding the two countries to reach a good place. "I also want to thank the many member states who helped us reach this moment — a moment that is actually far greater than people would understand."
Needless to say, it was quite a change in tone from his first UNGA speech last year, at which he threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea.
And it's certainly a departure from what Trump has tweeted about the Korean leader; to date, he's called Kim Jong-un "rocket man" on Twitter five times. "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," Trump tweeted on Oct. 1, 2017. "Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!"
But in Trump's first summit with Kim in June, things went surprisingly well.
Despite Trump canceling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's planned visit to North Korea in August, it appears that progress continues to be on the horizons. According to CNN, Trump on Monday signaled that a second summit with Kim could be happening.
But Trump's praise of Kim on Tuesday still stirred tension.
"A 2nd meeting with #KimJongUn about what?" tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, on Tuesday following Trump's speech. "His 'concessions' so far are symbolic such as closing a rocket engine test center he doesn't need anymore. #KJU trying to play us. To make himself appear accommodating to undermine intl support for sanctions."
Samantha Power, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, also chided the president's praise of Kim while the country has been a known human rights violator. She wrote in a tweet,, "North Korea’s Kim Jong Un keeps an estimated 60,000 people in gulags in the most closed country on earth, and he runs a regime that brutally murdered an American student. Trump finds him “open and terrific.”
While it's not clear when or if Trump will have a second meeting with Kim, it was pretty obvious from his UN speech on Tuesday what his mindset is on both North Korea and Iran.