President Donald Trump addressed the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, delivering a roaring defence of nationalism and US sovereignty, even as he tried to rally a multinational response to what he described as Iran's escalating aggression.
The former reality TV star and business tycoon implored the world's leaders to prioritise their own nations, with strong borders and one-on-one trade deals, rejecting sweeping transnational organisations and alliances.
"The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to strong, independent nations," Trump told a murmuring crowd at the General Assembly. "Globalism exerted a religious pull over past leaders causing them to ignore their own national interests. Those days are over."
Focusing on the United States' self-interest, Trump said that the nation's security was jeopardised by the threat posed by Iran and warned Tehran to stop its aggression toward Washington's allies in the Middle East.
"As long as Iran's menacing behaviour continues sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened," Trump warned. "The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation. We desire peace, cooperation, and mutual gain with all. But I will never fail to defend America's interests."
As speculation mounted that Trump could meet in New York with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the US leader raised the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough, saying "the United States has never believed in permanent enemies. We want partners, not adversaries."
But while Trump commanded the global stage, momentum was building in Washington among Democrats to impeach the president after it was revealed that he ordered his staff to freeze nearly US$400 million in aid to Ukraine a few days before a phone call in which he pressured the Eastern European nation's leader to investigate the family of political rival Joe Biden, the Democratic former US vice-president.
While Trump wants allies to join the US in further isolating Iran, he also seems to be holding to his go-it-alone strategy of using economic sanctions to pressure Tehran to give up its nuclear program and stop attacks that are rattling the Middle East.
In the speech's first moments, Trump did not explicitly to blame Iran for recent strikes against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Iran has denied orchestrating the attack, which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has deemed "an act of war."
Britain, France and Germany joined the United States on Monday in blaming Iran for the attacks. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, for his part, pointed to claims of responsibility by Yemeni rebels and insisted: "If Iran were behind this attack, nothing would have been left of this refinery."
Eye on Venezuela
Trump also addressed the ongoing stand-off in Venezuela, denouncing the oppressive regime and vowing that the United States would "never be a socialist nation."
The United States and more than a dozen Latin American countries agreed Monday to investigate and arrest associates and senior officials of the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro who are suspected of crimes like drug-trafficking, money-laundering and financing terrorism.
Trump assailed Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, as "a Cuban puppet, protected by Cuban bodyguards."
"The United States has vast humanitarian aid to be delivered," Trump said, adding Washington was "watching the Venezuela situation very closely."
"We await the day when democracy will be restored, when Venezuela will be free, and when liberty will prevail throughout this hemisphere," he said.
As Trump spoke, a Venezuelan delegate pretended to read a book about South American independence hero Simon Bolívar. Maduro was not present, choosing instead to travel to Moscow to meet Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The new sanctions announced Tuesday in Washington target Venezuela's ties with Cuba, which supports Maduro. The move is the latest US escalation of sanctions aimed at undermining support for the Venezuelan leader, who is grappling with a political and economic crisis that the United Nations says has left a quarter of Venezuela's 30 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
The new sanctions hit four companies – three registered in Panama and one in Cyprus – that ship oil from Venezuela to Cuba, and names four specific oil tankers. The companies are Caroil Transport Marine Ltd., which is based in Cyprus, and Panama-based Trocana World Inc., Tovase Development Corp and Bluelane Overseas SA.
North Korean stand-off
Trump praised his diplomatic efforts with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, even though the autocrat continues to hold a tight grip on his nuclear weapons.
The former host of The Apprentice has met Kim for summits in Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam, and orchestrated a surprise encounter with him in June at the Demilitarised Zone, where he became the first US president to ever set foot in North Korea.
Trump said Monday that another meeting with the North Korean leader "could happen soon." He provided few details, and it wasn't clear what officials were doing behind the scenes to set up a meeting to break the diplomatic impasse over the North's development of nuclear-armed missiles targeting the US mainland.
The US president's comments, even with few specifics backing them up, are tantalising because there is extreme interest, especially in Japan and South Korea, in whether Trump and Kim can strike a deal on one of the world's most pressing stand-offs.
This was Trump's third speech to the world body. In his speech to the UN General Assembly last year, Trump expressed disdain for globalism and promoted his "America First" agenda.
In his 2018 speech to the assembly, his self-adulation prompted chuckles from world leaders. That barely ruffled Trump, who shares a belief with his supporters that the United States has been asked to do too much for other countries and needs to focus on issues it faces at home.