Trump softens tone as he looks to ‘make the United Nations great’

US president expected to speak about North Korea and Iran at week-long meeting

US president Donald Trump criticises the United Nations as being overburdened with bureaucracy and mismanagement and called for reform. Video: The White House


US president Donald Trump toned down his criticism of the United Nations during his first appearance at the institution on Monday, pledging to help “make the United Nations great” in an echo of his presidential campaign slogan.

In comments delivered at a session on reforming the United Nations, Mr Trump said that “in recent years the UN has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement”, but added the UN had “tremendous potential”. Nonetheless, with the United States contributing about 28 per cent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, he said that no state should bear a disproportionate share of costs.

Mr Trump, who is due to give a keynote speech to the general assembly on Tuesday, has been a staunch critic of the New York-headquartered institution in the past. In December, he said the UN was “not a friend of democracy . . . not a friend to freedom . . . not a friend to the United States of America . . . and not a friend to Israel”.

Less dismissive

But his tone was less dismissive during his first appearance at the week-long gathering. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was among the 100-plus countries represented at Monday’s session which focused on reform of the United Nations, at the behest of the United States. Speaking following the meeting, he said he recognised the need for the United Nations to be reformed, but that discussions were at a very early stage. “It’s about asking the hard questions about the UN, ensuring that the money that is spent through UN institutions get the maximum output and outcomes it can,” he said.

Mr Trump is expected to address global challenges such as the North Korean nuclear threat and Iran in his speech on Tuesday. The US president spoke with Chinese president Xi Jinping, who is not attending the UN general assembly, by phone on Monday. Both leaders were agreeing to maximise pressure on North Korea “through vigorous enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions”, the White House said.

As world leaders gathered under the shadow of the latest nuclear missile test by North Korea, Pyongyang said on Monday that the new sanctions agreed by the United Nations would only make it accelerate its nuclear programme. In a statement, the North Korean government described the latest sanctions package as “the most vicious, unethical, and inhumane act of hostility”.

Peace deal

Mr Trump also met with Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu bilaterally on the fringes of the UN general assembly. The US president, who has previously been strongly critical of the United Nations’ stance on Israel, said the administration was “working very hard” to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. “We’ll see what happens. Historically, people say it can’t happen. I say it can happen,” he said, adding: “Israel would like to see it, and I think the Palestinians would like to see it, and I can tell you that the Trump administration would like to see it.”

Mr Netanyahu said relations between the US and Israel had “never been stronger” than under the Trump administration. He also expressed hope that something would be done about the “terrible nuclear deal” with Iran.