Even some of America’s closest European allies were rattled by President Trump’s threat to “destroy” North Korea if diplomacy to disarm fails.
“We are not there yet with North Korea,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters, adding diplomacy should precede any military action in the peninsula. “And that’s why I believe today that it would be counterproductive to use that argument, to put [the military option] on the table as a possible immediate response.”
Others were even less polite. Trump’s threat to North Korea was “pigheaded,” said a Chinese diplomat.
But former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt was more nuanced, tweeting: "Trump's #UNGA description of the Pyongyang regime as a 'band of criminals' is as undiplomatic as it is correct."
While North Korea’s foreign minister is expected to make a speech at the U.N. debate late on Friday, he has not arrived in Turtle Bay yet. But even Pyongyang’s top diplomat in New York, U.N. ambassador Ja Song-nam, was not in his seat during Trump’s speech, leaving behind a junior note taker.
Jonathan Wachtel, who until recently served as spokesman for the American U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, and is now an independent commentator, said the speech was “an earnest plea for the international community to come together to confront the dangers from North Korea and Iran. Trump reminded the seated world leaders of their obligation to uphold the founding principles of the United Nations.”
However, he added, Trump also “made it clear that America is prepared to address the threats on its own.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke to Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ambassador Haley right after the address to the Assembly. “We spoke generally about our support for the collective strategy of diplomatic, political and economical pressure” on North Korea, Bishop told a gaggle of reporters.
“The last thing anybody wants is for there to be a conflict on the Korean Peninsula,” she said, adding Trump also “made it quite clear that the consequence of that would be catastrophic.”
But when asked directly about Trump’s assertion that “rocket man [[Kim Jong-Un]] is on a suicidal mission,” she answered diplomatically, “I think the focus should be on North Korea’s behavior, rather than on the way the president may or may not describe it.”
She also commended Trump for clarifying his “America First” approach to the world and positioned it as America’s new approach to multilateralism.
For better or worse, the speech was “authentic,” said Jane Holl Lute, a former deputy secretary of homeland security under President Obama and now the U.N. point person on fighting sexual abuse in the institution.
Another long time U.N. official, who requested anonymity, told the Beast that Trump’s approach was “somewhat complimentary of the U.N. and multilateralism, but it was about the U.N. of, maybe, 1945.”
The Chinese diplomat, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, didn’t like Trump’s attack on socialism and communism, saying, “North Korea is communism, China is communism, Venezuela, Cuba, Vietnam. They’re all communist but they’re all different. It’s not about ideology.”
Reacting furiously to the characterization of Iran and the disparaging comments about the nuclear deal, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif told reporters, “Trump’s shameless and ignorant remarks, in which he ignored Iran’s fight against terrorism, displays his lack of knowledge and unawareness.”
But not everyone was appalled by Trump’s U.N. appearance. “Saudis and other Mid-Easterners, Israel and maybe some Asians loved it, but most Europeans hated it,” an Arab diplomat neatly summed Trump's speech.
And indeed, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Walltrom told the BBC, “It was the wrong speech, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister and former UN ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, “In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech.”