UNITED NATIONS — President Donald Trump delivered a forceful inaugural speech to a packed U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, a sprawling 42-minute address that ranged from warlike to flowery and that challenged some long-cherished tenets of U.S. foreign policy.
With the cavernous hall packed so full that scores of people jammed into the aisles, Trump caused a stir when he mocked North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong Un, as “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” and threatened his “depraved regime.”
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself and its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump added.
Another buzz arose when he warned that parts of the world “are going to hell,” vowed to “crush loser terrorists” and condemned a “small group of rogue regimes” as the “scourge of our planet.”
“Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists, but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity,” he said.
But Trump also praised U.N. programs that have fought disease, helped countries after wars and natural disasters, sheltered millions of refugees and educated women and girls.
He saluted U.N. peacekeeping missions for stabilizing conflicts in Africa, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for leading efforts to make U.N. operations and agencies more efficient.
He called for restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela, where he said the socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro “has brought a once-thriving nation to the brink of total collapse.”
“To put it simply, we meet at a time of both immense promise and great peril,” he said.
“It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights or let it fall into a valley of disrepair,” he said. “We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift millions from poverty, to help our citizens realize their dreams and to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred and fear.
“If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,” he added. “When decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.”
Trump began, as he often does in public gatherings, by boasting about his time in office.
The United States “has done very well since Election Day,” he said, claiming credit for a rising stock market, low unemployment and a military that he said “will soon be the strongest it has ever been.”
Trump jettisoned traditional U.S. positions advocating for human rights and democratic reforms, and spoke instead of the importance of national sovereignty as the bedrock of international cooperation.
Without mentioning Russia or China, he added that “we must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.”
The United States and its allies have accused Russia of illegally seizing the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine and backing an armed insurrection there, and have sought to block China as it builds up disputed islands and shoals in the South China Sea.
“I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first,” Trump said to applause. The nation-state, he added, “remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.”
He insisted the United States would be a “great friend to the world,” but added, “We can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.”
Trump has used that argument to try to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, to announce plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change and to refuse to support an 11-nation trans-Pacific trade agreement.
He also renewed hints that he would withdraw from the landmark nuclear disarmament deal with Iran. The 2015 deal, which eased international sanctions in exchange for Iran’s destroying or dismantling its nuclear development program, was blessed by the U.N. Security Council and is monitored by a U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.
“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said to scattered applause.
He called it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into” and “an embarrassment to the United States.”
“And I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it,” he added. “Believe me.”
The Trump administration faces an Oct. 15 deadline to certify to Congress that Iran is complying with its obligations under the deal. If Trump refuses, Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions, in effect breaking the U.S. part of the agreement.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conceded this weekend that Tehran is in “technical compliance,” but he faulted it for fostering instability across the Middle East that he said violated a preamble of the accord.
Any U.S. president’s first U.N. speech would merit attention. But Trump’s garnered more interest because of his unpredictable nature and because he was highly critical of the U.N. during his campaign, calling it wasteful, useless and ineffective in defending democratic values.
But at a luncheon Guterres hosted Tuesday for nearly 200 presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and diplomats, Trump suddenly was full of extravagant praise for the global body, saying in a toast that “there is no better forum, there can be no better forum.”
“The potential of the United Nations is unlimited, and I really believe — I’ve met your representatives, and I know you well,” he said. “You are going to do things that will be epic, and I certainly hope you will. But I feel very, very confident.”