A ‘time to be se­ri­ous’ for Trump and team in U.N. de­but

First Gen­eral Assem­bly ad­dress comes amid talk of Iran deal’s fu­ture

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ANNE GEARAN AND DAVID NAKAMURA anne.gearan@wash­post.com david.nakamura@wash­post.com

new york — Pres­i­dent Trump’s first ad­dress to the United Na­tions, the world body he once said risked be­com­ing an ir­rel­e­vant sa­lon, will be a test of his “Amer­ica First” agenda on global en­gage­ment, cli­mate change and North Korea, but one topic — Iran — looms largest.

Trump’s speech on Tues­day, and a se­ries of meet­ings he will hold this week with for­eign lead­ers gath­er­ing here at the an­nual U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly, are freighted with ex­pec­ta­tions that the U.S. leader wants to pull away from the 2015 U.N.-backed nu­clear deal with Iran.

Trump faces an Oct. 15 dead­line to say whether Iran is com­ply­ing with terms of the deal and whether he con­sid­ers the agree­ment to be in the U.S. na­tional in­ter­est. His administration has re­cently sig­naled that he is likely to say no, rais­ing the specter of re­newed U.S. sanc­tions and the pos­si­bil­ity that the deal would fall apart.

“You’ll see what I’m go­ing to be do­ing very shortly in Oc­to­ber,” Trump told re­porters Thurs­day when asked about his de­ci­sion. “The Iran deal is one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen. Cer­tainly, at a min­i­mum, the spirit of the deal is just atro­ciously kept.”

The pres­i­dent added that “the Iran deal is not a fair deal to this coun­try. It’s a deal that should have never, ever been made . . . . We are not go­ing to stand for what they are do­ing with our coun­try. They’ve vi­o­lated so many dif­fer­ent el­e­ments, but they’ve also vi­o­lated the spirit of that deal.”

Most who will be in the au­di­ence for Trump’s speech dis­agree. The Euro­pean Union, one of the ar­chi­tects of the deal, hopes to hold a meet­ing of the sig­na­to­ries, in­clud­ing Iran, on the side­lines of the Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion.

“This agree­ment is a very im­por­tant agree­ment,” U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­tónio Guter­res said Wed­nes­day. “It con­trib­uted to an im­por­tant de-es­ca­la­tion at the mo­ment, and it is a fac­tor of sta­bil­ity. And it’s my opin­ion that all par­ties should do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble for this agree­ment to be pre­served.”

White House of­fi­cials sketched out an am­bi­tious se­ries of events for Trump, in­clud­ing bi­lat­eral meet­ings Mon­day with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

Trump is ex­pected to fo­cus on “Iran’s desta­bi­liz­ing be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing its vi­o­la­tion of the sovereignty of na­tions across the Mid­dle East,” na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser H.R. McMaster told re­porters Fri­day.

The pres­i­dent also will have lunch with Guter­res, and he’ll meet with lead­ers of Jor­dan, the Pales­tinian Author­ity, the United King­dom, Egypt, Tur­key, Afghanistan and Ukraine. And Trump will hold a tri­lat­eral din­ner with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in to dis­cuss North Korea’s nu­clear weapons threat.

While Trump’s de­but on Tues­day is per­haps the most highly an­tic­i­pated mo­ment, the U.N. gath­er­ing is also no­table for who will not be there — Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jin­ping, who are skip­ping this year’s meet­ing. Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of Burma, also will not at­tend amid a spate of gov­ern­ment-backed eth­nic vi­o­lence in that coun­try that has drawn in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion.

Trump has been a skep­tic of in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the United Na­tions and NATO. He pulled the United States out of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment and an Asia-Pa­cific trade ac­cord, pro­mot­ing a for­eign pol­icy aimed at lim­it­ing U.S. in­ter­ven­tion­ism abroad in fa­vor of do­mes­tic pri­or­i­ties. Yet Trump administration of­fi­cials said the pres­i­dent and his team are in­tent on hav­ing a strong pres­ence and demon­strat­ing lead­er­ship in New York on is­sues in­clud­ing ter­ror­ism, trade and hu­man rights. Vice Pres­i­dent Pence and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son will join Trump in the U.S. del­e­ga­tion.

“No one is go­ing to grip-and­grin,” U.N. Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley said of hand­shake photo ops. “The United States is go­ing to work . . . . This is a time to be se­ri­ous, and it’s a time for us to talk out these chal­lenges and make sure there’s ac­tion that fol­lows it.”

As he did with NATO, Trump has pressed the United Na­tions for re­forms, and Ha­ley em­pha­sized that the administration has seen im­prove­ments. She said the world body has moved away from “fo­cus­ing on the com­mas and the pe­ri­ods” of tooth­less res­o­lu­tions and be­gun tak­ing stronger ac­tions.

She cited re­cent de­ci­sions by the global body to en­act sweep­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions on North Korea over its nu­clear and bal­lis­tic weapons pro­gram.

Ha­ley said the sanc­tions will hurt Py­ongyang, but quickly added that if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un does not end his provoca­tive mis­sile and nu­clear tests, the United Na­tions will run out of op­tions.

“Hav­ing said that, I have no prob­lem kick­ing it to [De­fense Sec­re­tary James] Mat­tis, be­cause I think he has plenty of op­tions,” she said, al­lud­ing to mil­i­tary power.

The administration has op­tions on Iran, too, which has col­ored Trump’s en­gage­ment with U.S. al­lies and part­ners since his sur­prise vic­tory in Novem­ber.

Cham­pi­ons of the Iran nu­clear deal were re­as­sured when Trump twice acted to cer­tify Ira­nian com­pli­ance. Those no­ti­fi­ca­tions, re­quired by Congress, were taken as a sign that Trump might com­plain about the deal but would not “rip it up” as he had pledged to do as a can­di­date.

Now administration of­fi­cials are telling al­lies they want to strengthen the deal, at the least.

Ha­ley re­cently said the deal can­not be “too big to fail,” no mat­ter the heavy in­vest­ment of im­por­tant U.S. al­lies in keep­ing it in­tact. And Tiller­son said Thurs­day that Iran is “clearly in de­fault” of ex­pec­ta­tions and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der the deal, an as­ser­tion that Iran and Euro­pean al­lies dis­pute.

The U.N. nu­clear watchdog, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, said this month that Iran is play­ing by the rules.

Trump is ex­pected to cite Ira­nian bal­lis­tic mis­sile ac­tiv­ity and al­leged Ira­nian sup­port for ter­ror­ism and other ac­tiv­i­ties as ev­i­dence that Iran is vi­o­lat­ing the “spirit” of the deal.

“Pres­i­dent Trump has made it clear to those of us who are help­ing him de­velop this pol­icy that we must take into ac­count the to­tal­ity of Ira­nian threats, not just Iran’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” Tiller­son said Thurs­day.

He quoted from the pref­ace to the deal, for­mally known as the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion, or JCPOA. The pref­ace says that sign­ers “an­tic­i­pate that full im­ple­men­ta­tion of this JCPOA will pos­i­tively con­trib­ute to re­gional and in­ter­na­tional peace and se­cu­rity.”

The Trump administration is ar­gu­ing that those words con­vey obli­ga­tions to Iran to cur­tail ac­tiv­i­ties that would harm in­ter­na­tional peace and se­cu­rity.

“In our view, Iran is clearly in de­fault of these ex­pec­ta­tions of the JCPOA through their ac­tions to prop up the As­sad regime, to en­gage in ma­li­cious ac­tiv­i­ties in the re­gion, in­clud­ing cy­ber ac­tiv­ity, ag­gres­sively de­vel­op­ing bal­lis­tic mis­siles,” Tiller­son said.

On Twit­ter, Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif said the deal is not rene­go­tiable and said a “bet­ter” deal is “pure fan­tasy.”

“About time for U.S. to stop spin­ning and be­gin com­ply­ing, just like Iran,” Zarif wrote.


Pres­i­dent Trump de­parts the White House on Fri­day. His speech at the an­nual U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly is sched­uled for Tues­day.

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