Trump's UN speech will try to rally member states to confront shared threats

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump will address the United Nations General Assembly at 10:30 a.m., ET, on Tuesday.
  • Trump will try to rally member states around joint action to confront rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.
  • The president will also attempt to strike a balance between the demands of American leadership around the globe and his own "America First" foreign policy.
President Donald Trump speaks during a session on reforming the United Nations at U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 18, 2017.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

President Donald Trump will urge United Nations member states on Tuesday to jointly confront rogue states like North Korea and Iran, as well as to cooperate on other issues from positions of self-interest.

Trump's speech Tuesday morning will be his first to the 193-member UN General Assembly, and the president will attempt to strike a tone of optimism and "principled realism," according to a senior White House official who previewed the speech to reporters on Monday.

"It's an appeal to each nation to use sovereignty as the basis for mutual cooperation," said the senior official, "and the idea that nation-states that serve the interests of their own citizens have a rational interest in cooperating to confront shared dangers, shared threats, as well as shared opportunities."

Chief among those shared dangers is nuclear-armed North Korea. Its leader, Kim Jong-Un, has conducted more than a dozen missile tests since Trump took office in January, culminating in an early September underground test of what is believed to have been a hydrogen bomb.

Trump will reserve his strongest language for North Korea, said the official. "He will speak in extremely tough terms about the North Korean menace and the threat it poses to our security and the security of all the nations in that room. And he will talk about, as well, the enablement of the North Korean regime and what that means, too."

The president's speech comes just days after the UN Security Council unanimously approved a tough new round of sanctions against North Korea in response to its latest bomb test.

Trump will also single out Iran for criticism, said the official. But here, the president will be careful "to separate out the government from the people of Iran." To do that, Trump will highlight what the White House said is "a tension between the direction the country is currently being run in, and the desires of the people and what kind of future they want to have."

Trump is a fierce critic of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiated under his predecessor, President Barack Obama. So far in his presidency, however, Trump has yet to pull out of the deal. On Monday, asked by reporters whether the United States still planned to abide by the agreement, Trump said only, "you'll be seeing very soon."

On a more philosophical level, Trump's speech will be a balancing act. On one hand, his audience is a room full of diplomats, eager to hear the new president lay out his vision for America's place in the world.

But Trump has another audience as well, made up of the voters who form his political base of support and will see clips of his speech on the evening news. This audience is looking for signs that the president is adhering to the same isolationist, "America First" foreign policy that he campaigned and won on.

Trump's speechwriters, it seems, are keenly aware that he will need to thread a needle at the UN.

"The president will be explaining how the principle of 'America First' is not only consistent with the goal of international cooperation, but a rational basis for every country to engage in cooperation," said the administration official, "because all countries that are sovereign put the needs of their own citizens first.

"Countries that confront common dangers, common threats and common opportunities ought to be able to cooperate together as a coalition of strong, free, and independent nations in a way that uplifts all of their citizens."

Trump is expected to speak in New York City around 10:30 a.m., ET.