Presiding for the first time a meeting of the United Nations’ body, Trump denounced the “horrible, one-sided” nuclear deal with Iran that he ditched in May, to the dismay of European allies.
A gavel-wielding Trump took a swipe at China, accusing Beijing of working against his Republican Party in upcoming midterm elections as payback for their growing trade war, a charge China’s foreign minister said was “unwarranted”.
Wednesday’s meeting highlighted a rift between the United States and its European allies over the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump vowed that re-imposed sanctions will be “in full force” and urged world powers to work with the United States to “ensure the Iranian regime changes its behaviour and never acquires a nuclear bomb”.
Addressing the council after Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron hit back, declaring that concerns about Iran cannot be tackled with “a policy of sanctions and containment”. Also defending the deal that was endorsed in a Security Council resolution, British Prime Minister Theresa May said it “remains the best means of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon”. The United States has moved to reimpose sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme and has vowed to punish foreign firms that do business with Iran.
Trump argued that since the deal was signed in 2015, “Iran’s aggression only increased” and that funds released from the lifting of sanctions had been used “to support terrorism, build nuclear capable missiles and foment chaos”.
Iran did not request to speak at the council meeting, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a news conference that the United States would eventually rejoin the nuclear deal and pledged Tehran’s continued commitment to the accord.
“The United States of America one day, sooner or later, will come back. This cannot be continued,” Rouhani said.
Turning to Syria, Trump assailed Russia and Iran for backing President Bashar al-Assad in his brutal war in Syria, saying: “The Syrian regime’s butchery is enabled by Russia and Iran.”
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that the “rights of all countries to trade with Iran should be respected” after the European Union said a special payment system would be set up to keep alive business ties with Iran.
In a blunt attack on China, Trump told the council that China wanted to see him suffer an elections setback because of his hard line on trade.
“Regrettably we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election coming up in November against my administration,” he said. “They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade.”
The Republicans could lose control of both the Senate and House of Representatives in November’s elections, further imperiling Trump’s chances of chalking up legislative achievements.
The Chinese foreign minister responded flatly that Beijing strictly adhered to a policy of non-interference. “We did not and will not interfere in any country’s domestic affairs. We refuse to accept any unwarranted accusations against China,” said Wang.
Tensions have soared between Beijing and Washington after Trump this week slapped new tariffs covering $200 billion in Chinese goods exported to the United States.
On North Korea, Trump called for sanctions to be strictly enforced against Pyongyang — a message directed at Russia and China which are pushing for an easing of punitive measures to reward North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Without naming countries, the US president noted that “some nations are already violating UN sanctions” including illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil and said compliance was “very important”.
His comments came shortly before his top diplomat, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, signalled on Wednesday that he would return to North Korea next month to push forward denuclearisation talks.
It was only the third time in UN history that a US president chaired a Security Council meeting. Barack Obama presided over two meetings in 2009 and 2014.