UNITED NATIONS (CN) – During his debut speech a little more than a year ago at the General Assembly, President Donald Trump provoked audible gasps in the hall of diplomacy by threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea.
What a difference a year makes.
As Trump returns to Turtle Bay on Monday, the U.S. president seems to have a greater rapport with Kim Jong Un than with certain NATO allies. Trump made some startling moves on the global chessboard this past year by imposing tariffs on Canada and Turkey while cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As recently as July, Trump has been seen giving Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a fist-bump and saying at a NATO meeting in Belgium that the Turkish autocrat did “things the right way.” What the press described a “bromance” between Trump and Erdogan appears now to have fractured, however, over Turkey’s jailing of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson.
Trump and Erdogan both deliver speeches on Tuesday morning. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will take the marble dais on Friday. Putin will be sending a minister in his stead.
Before delivering his second big U.N. speech, Trump kicked off high-level meetings on Monday morning with 15 minutes of prepared speeches on counter-narcotics by Trump, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, whose native Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001.
Trump will lead the Security Council on Wednesday at a meeting dedicated to curbing the “proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
Retiring the nickname “Little Rocket Man,” Trump posed warmly for friendly photographs with the North Korean dictator in June. The denuclearization agreement may not have teeth or any method for verification, but at least it seems to have stopped Kim from openly ridiculing Trump as a “dotard” and “frightened dog.”
As it had last year, North Korea is sending its foreign minister to deliver a speech on Saturday. This year’s speech should be more conciliatory than that of last year, when diplomat Ri Yong Ho labeled Trump “a mentally deranged person full of megalomania and complacency, the person who is chastised even by American people as ‘Commander in Grief,’ ‘Lyin King,’ ‘President Evil.’”
Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters at a press conference last week that Trump and Kim do not have a follow-up meeting scheduled this week, nor does Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plan to sit down with North Korea’s foreign minister. Trump does, however, plan to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who posed with Kim last week at the top of a sacred North Korean mountain.
If the geopolitical landscape has changed with regard to the Korean Peninsula, much remains the same at Turtle Bay. Hundreds of world leaders – an estimated 95 heads of state, 42 heads of government and dozens of ministers – have descended upon U.N. headquarters this week, where metal barricades have blocked off large stretches of Midtown Manhattan and snarled traffic throughout New York City.
Inside the world’s shrine to multilateralism, Trump again plans to center this year’s speech around his gospel of national sovereignty.
Where the watchword at the General Assembly last year was “reform,” Haley suggested Trump would again scrimp on funding to the peacekeeping organization – at least toward nations and institutions that the administration believes to be antagonistic.
“He will talk about foreign aid, how generous the United States is, but he’ll also lay down a marker that while the United States is generous, we’re going to be generous to those who share our values, generous to those who want to work with us,” Haley told reporters. “And not those that try to stop the United States and say that they hate America and who are counterproductive to what we’re doing.”
Earlier this month, the Trump administration withdrew humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, whose leader Mahmoud Abbas will speak early on Thursday afternoon. The Trump administration meanwhile continues to trample roughshod over the international treaties signed by his predecessor Barack Obama.
“Through multiple things, whether it’s the migration compact, whether it’s the Paris accord, all of these things that we felt like were mandating things upon the United States, those aren’t things that we want to be involved in,” Haley told reporters.
One of those broken agreements – the Iran deal – reportedly prompted a scheduling shakeup at the United Nations. Trump had been expected to chair a meeting on that deal before the U.N. broadened the agenda to weapons of mass destruction generally, a move that the BBC interpreted as a way to shield him from criticism from Britain, France and others for pulling out of the landmark treaty.
Apparently missing the memo, Trump tweeted: “I will Chair the United Nations Security Council meeting on Iran next week!”
Haley gave a noncommittal answer whether there would be any chance for diplomacy this week with Iran, whose President Hassan Rouhani will speak shortly after Trump late during the morning session on Tuesday.
“Certainly, if Rouhani requested a meeting, that would be for the president to decision whether he wants to do that,” she said in response to a question from a reporter last week.
The Security Council’s meeting will take place on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the first anniversary of the adoption of a landmark treaty by 120 member states toward the abolition of the deadly weapons.
The United States and other Western powers snubbed the agreement last year, where roughly 50 states signed the treaty at an emotional ceremony attended by a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan.