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Mixed Messages: Trump Offers Platitudes, Warnings on Iran at UN

President says Rouhani is a ‘lovely man’ and ‘sows death and destruction’

President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He spent much of Tuesday sending mixed signals to Iranian leaders. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He spent much of Tuesday sending mixed signals to Iranian leaders. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s second day at a United Nations conference in New York began with mixed signals from the U.S. diplomat-in-chief on Iran — including platitudes and warnings.

Trump’s second address to the UN General Assembly featured plenty of vintage moments, with tough rhetoric for friends and foes alike. His message for North Korea was one of partnership a year after he declared its leader, Kim Jong Un, was on a “suicide mission.” He threatened to slash U.S. aid to many UN members and declared China’s trade practices will not be tolerated much longer.

And there were several awkward moments when other world leaders laughed in unison at the bombastic and boastful U.S. president.

But as his administration increasingly focuses on its next steps toward Iran as the Middle East country continues to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his forces in a years-long conflict there, Trump’s message outside the General Assembly Hall did not always match the one he uttered inside it.

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As the sun rose on the East Coast, Trump fired off a tweet declaring Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “an absolutely lovely man!”

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But four hours later, he slammed Rouhani and other Iranian leaders, saying they “sow chaos, death and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders or the sovereign rights of nations.” He also alleged that Iranian officials have “embezzled” from their country’s coffers and “sent their proxies to wage war.”

But outside the hall, Trump said as he arrived — about 20 minutes late — for his address, that he wants to meet with Rouhani, saying: “It will happen. We look forward to having a great relationship with Iran. But it won’t happen now. … Iran has to change its tune before I meet with them.” (Trump seemed eager to rebut Rouhani, who a day earlier said he refused to meet with Trump due to U.S. sanctions on his country.”

Inside the hall minutes later, however, Trump delivered a much tougher tone about Iran, saying the United States wants all countries to “isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues” and to also “support Iran’s people.” He said countries must unite and prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, warning they might use it against Israel or “any city” on the planet.

“Iran’s leaders plunder [their] nation’s resources to enrich themselves and sow mayhem across the region and beyond,” the president said on the stage he criticized as “cheap” in a 2012 tweet.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said Trump came to the massive hall at UN headquarters “with a divided scorecard” on Iran.

“Unilateral sanctions are already hampering Iran’s economy and getting the attention of major international businesses,” Ben Taleblu said. “But there seems to be little political appetite for substantive policy change by the EU, at least in the short term.”

‘Thank Chairman Kim’

He lauded his administration’s work with North Korea, noting the Asian country has not tested any missiles or nuclear weapons since his summit with Kim Jong Un. He also expressed his appreciation that Kim lived up to an agreement to return remains of U.S. troops killed there during the Korean conflict.

“I would like to thank Chairman Kim for his courage and for the steps that he’s taken — though more work remains to be done,” Trump said, noting existing “sanctions will remain in place until denuclearization occurs.”

Progress between the U.S. and North Korea is a “moment that is far greater than people would understand,” Trump asserted.

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The American commander in chief declared that the “bloodthirsty killers known as ISIS have been driven out of the territory they once held in Iraq and Syria,” and he called for a “political solution” in the latter country that reflects “the will of the Syrian people”

And he delivered a message to Assad, saying the United States “will respond if chemical weapons are deployed by the Assad regime.”

Venezuelan ‘anguish’

The president announced new sanctions against the “repressive regime” in Venezuela, “targeting Maduro’s inner circle and close advisers.” He also called on UN members to assist the United States in seeking the “restoration of democracy in Venezuela.”

Years of gross economic mismanagement, corruption and government violence have caused more than 2 million people to flee the country since 2014.

As Trump was speaking at the U.N., Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced legislation that would authorize $55 million in fiscal 2019 for humanitarian relief to Venezuelan refugees and for rule of law activities in the country. The measure would also codify and expand targeted sanctions on Venezuelan officials that the United States consider corrupt.