UNITED NATIONS — In a powerful nationalist speech to the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, President Trump gave a full-throated defense of his “America First” agenda and called for other nations to emphasize their sovereignty as the foundation for international cooperation.
“In America the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign. I was elected not to take power, but to give power to the American people where it belongs,” he said, adding that his administration was “renewing this founding principle of sovereignty.”
However, Trump made it clear that “America First” does not mean “America Alone” and instead explained how other nations should embrace sovereignty as one of the building blocks to international cooperation—arguing that the U.N.’s strength is magnified when nation-states are “strong, independent, and free.”
“As President of the United States I will always put America first, just like you as the leaders of your countries will always and should always put your countries first,” he said to a rare moment of applause.
“All responsible leaders have an obligation to serve their own citizens, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he said.
Since the departure of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon in August, it has been unclear to what extent Trump remains committed to the agenda that got him elected. He has increased America’s presence in Afghanistan, flip-flopped on the repeal of DACA, and his administration has indicated that the U.S. may not leave the Paris climate accord.
But the Tuesday address, reportedly drafted by adviser Stephen Miller—one of the few remaining economic nationalists in the administration and the adviser responsible for Trump’s similarly strong speech in July—was a return to form and a speech likely to meet with approval from Trump’s “America First” base.
“As long as I hold this office, I will defend America’s interests above all else, but in fulfilling our obligations to our own nations we also realize that it’s in everyone’s interests to seek a future where all nations can be sovereign, prosperous and secure,” he said.
In the roughly 40-minute address, Trump praised the founding ideas of the U.N. and noted the U.S.’s role in its founding—but warned that under his watch, the U.S. would not be taken advantage of under the guise of globalism and international friendship.
“The United States will forever be a great friend to the world and especially to its allies,” he said, but warned, “We can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.”
In particular, he criticized the Obama-era Iran deal as “an embarrassment” to the U.S and warned, “I don’t think you’ve heard the end of it.” The administration will decide in October whether or not to declare Iran in compliance with the deal, and Trump has indicated he will not declare the Islamic Republic as in compliance.
Yet Trump also called for countries to work together, to stand side-by-side and not just co-exist. In particular, he called on the international community to act on rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea.
“If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few then evil will triumph,” he said. He also had tough words for North Korea in particular, warning that the U.S. will “totally destroy” the regime if attacked.
“Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime,” Trump said, referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
But balancing his defense of “America First” with outreach to the international community, Trump finished his speech on a conciliatory note, calling for the international community to give a resolute, united message to the world:
So let this be our mission and let this be our message to the world: We will fight together, sacrifice together and stand together for peace, for freedom, for justice, for family, for humanity and for the almighty God who made us all.