UNITED NATIONS —
Describing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” on a suicide mission, U.S. President Donald Trump used his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly to warn the Pyongyang regime that its current course could lead to total destruction.
“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life,” Trump told a packed U.N. General Assembly hall.
“No nation, on Earth, has an interest in seeing this band of criminals armed itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. 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,” the president said.
“Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” he added.
WATCH: Trump warns North Korea
North Korea’s U.N. ambassador left the hall before Trump arrived, and his seat remained empty throughout the president’s 42-minute address.
The president was equally harsh in his comments on Iran, describing its government as a corrupt dictatorship that hides behind the false guise of democracy. “It has turned a wealthy country with rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” Trump said.
Reading from two teleprompters on the dais, Trump told the assembly the Tehran government had used its vast resources to fund terrorist groups that “kill innocent Muslims and attack its peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors.”
“We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles and we cannot abide by the agreement if it provides cover for an eventual construction of a nuclear program,” the president said.
The U.S. leader’s list of world trouble spots included Venezuela. “The socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the good people of that country,” he said.
Trump drew chuckles from many in the audience when he noted that, “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented."
'America First' policy
The president touched on a broad spectrum of topics, from the recent spate of deadly hurricanes to his vision of “America First” and the concept of sovereignty, which observers saw as the beginnings of a Trump Doctrine.
“We must protect our nations, their interests and their futures. We must reject threats to sovereignty from the Ukraine to the South China Sea,” Trump said. “We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders and respect for culture and the peaceful engagement these allow. And just as the founders of this body intended, we must work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, turmoil and terror.
Reaction on Capitol Hill
Initial reactions to the address were sharply divided. On Capitol Hill, they fell along predictably partisan lines.
Republican Senator Corey Gardner (R-CO) applauded the tough line on North Korea. "The president made it clear that countries around the world have a choice - to do business with North Korea or the United States,” Gardner said. When asked by VOA about Trump’s use of the term “Rocket Man” to describe North Korea’s leader, he replied, “Rocketman, madman - it fits."
Democratic Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, like his Republican colleague a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump would do better to speak of tougher sanctions than the possibility of nuclear war.
"The president should be talking more about imposing even tougher sanctions on North Korea, having the Chinese agree that they are going to cut off all oil into the North Korean economy. I think that would increase the likelihood that the North Koreans would come to the table,” Markey said.
Political scientist Thomas Whalen of Boston University predicted the speech would be well received by Trump’s conservative base, but might send the wrong message to the international community.
“Apart from the expected bashing of the North Korean and Iranian regimes, Trump trumpeted his vision of "national sovereignty," which looks highly unfavorably on multinational trade deals and globalism in general,” Whalen told VOA.” Indeed, Trump made it clear that he is putting America first and foremost. Whether this will make for a safer and more secure world remains to be seen."
Zalmay Khalilzad, who served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the George W. Bush administration, took a more sanguine view. He said one presidential speech will have little or no effect on America’s reputation in the world, since most nations base their views of the United States on policies, which tend to transcend administrations, not on the views or actions of any individual president.
“While they may see great [short term] changes, they see great continuity over decades, whether a Democratic or Republican president. There is also this continuity that occurs, although emphases on some issues do change from time to time.”