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Trump Celebrates Nationalism in U.N. Speech and Plays Down Iran Crisis

President Trump delivered a sharp nationalist message and assailed “globalists” in remarks to the world’s leading international body on Tuesday, while stopping short of urging any specific action against Iran for a major attack on Saudi oil facilities that his administration has said was Tehran’s responsibility.

“If you want freedom, take pride in your country. If you want democracy, hold on to your sovereignty. And if you want peace, love your nation,” Mr. Trump said, as he called for stronger borders and new controls on migration. He added: “The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations.”

The United Nations was founded in 1945 to foster international cooperation and to “take effective collective measures” to keep the peace after the nationalist fervor that had plunged the globe into World War II. But Mr. Trump, who spoke in an unusually flat monotone as he read from a teleprompter, stressed the value of national identity and argued that governments must defend their “history, culture and heritage.”

“The free world must embrace its national foundations,” Mr. Trump said. “It must not attempt to erase them or replace them.”

Just as notable as his challenge to many of the world body’s principles was what Mr. Trump did not say. Before an audience that had been primed for him to build on the American argument that Iran was behind the attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Mr. Trump said relatively little about this month’s strikes. While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled the attacks “an act of war,” Mr. Trump never used that term.

His moderation most likely came as a relief to his audience, which included European leaders who have been scrambling to find a way to avert conflict with Iran over its nuclear program and over the Saudi attack. Instead, Mr. Trump reiterated the distaste for military conflict he has demonstrated since he first ran for president, and presented no plan — other than continued sanctions and diplomatic isolation — to counter Iran’s behavior.

His strikingly pat language on Iran appeared to be part of an effort to tamp down expectations of a strong American response in defense of Saudi Arabia, a key Middle East ally.

Instead, Mr. Trump called on Iran to give freedom to its people and engage in new talks with the United States. He hinted that he still was ready to negotiate, even though a meeting between Mr. Trump and President Hassan Rouhani, which seemed possible a few weeks ago, now appears unlikely.

“Many of America’s closest friends today were once our greatest foes,” Mr. Trump said. “The United States has never believed in permanent enemies. We want partners, not adversaries. America knows that while anyone can make war, only the most courageous can choose peace.”

“America’s goal is not to go with these endless wars, wars that never end,” he added.

Mr. Trump offered the world leaders and diplomats gathered before him little in the way of a clear path forward on how to deal with Iran, and largely repeated prior broad-stroke complaints about Iran’s “menacing behavior.”

He was rewarded with respectful applause when he finished, but none at all during the speech itself.

Mr. Trump also restated his hope that diplomacy can denuclearize North Korea; vowed to seek peace in Afghanistan even as America continues to fight the Taliban, and condemned the “socialist” leadership by “dictator” Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

Overall, the speech reaffirmed Mr. Trump’s belief in the ideas of nationalism and sovereignty that have fueled the rise of populist leaders across the world. It also bore the hallmarks of Stephen Miller, his policy adviser and speechwriter who has helped to push cultural and racial themes to the front of Mr. Trump’s agenda.

Mr. Trump’s language about efforts to “replace” the foundations of national cultures had echoes of the “great replacement” theory propounded by the French writer Renaud Camus, who has warned that European culture is being diluted by migrants from places like the Middle East and North Africa. The phrase “great replacement” has been adopted by many in the white nationalist movement, although it is unclear whether Mr. Trump intended such an allusion.

At a body that has been a champion of refugees and migrants, Mr. Trump offered a firm defense of strong borders at home and abroad.

“Many of the countries here today are coping with the challenges of uncontrolled migration,” he said. “Each of you has the absolute right to protect your borders. And so, of course, does our country.”

Mr. Trump also took explicit aim at the power of the United Nations, noting with pride that he has refused to ratify an international arms trade treaty sponsored by the body. “There’s no circumstance under which the United States will allow international entities to trample on the rights of our citizens, including the right to self-defense,” Mr. Trump said.

He assailed another international body, the World Trade Organization, saying that it had failed to check what he described as abusive Chinese economic practices for years. And he complained that a network of global elites had turned a blind eye to China’s behavior.

“For years, these abuses were tolerated, ignored or even encouraged,” Mr. Trump said. “Globalism exerted a religious pull over past leaders, causing them to ignore their own national interests. But as far as America is concerned, those days are over.”

On Tuesday night in New York, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, argued for a globalized economy — the opposite of the vision laid out by Mr. Trump — and criticized the tariffs imposed by the president that have driven the trade war between Washington and Beijing.

“Economic globalization as the trend of the times cannot and should not be held back,” Mr. Wang said, in an event that was hosted by the National Committee on United States-China Relations on the sidelines of the United Nations summit. “The free flow of resources enabled by globalization has created tremendous wealth.”

“Neither scapegoating nor initiating a trade war is the right solution” to globalization’s drawbacks, he said. “Trade frictions will only hurt both sides and the whole world.”

“It is not China’s intention to change the United States,” he added. “Likewise, the United States should not seek to change China.” And, he said, “China has no intention to play the Game of Thrones on the world stage.”

But it was the absence of focus on the attack on the Saudi oil facilities — and an apparent effort to end the talk of retaliatory strikes — that left many diplomats in the room surprised.

Just a week ago, it seemed certain that Mr. Trump would make the attack the central element of his United Nations speech. Not only did Mr. Pompeo call it an “act of war,” but military officials were at one point in the Situation Room offering military and cyberattack options to respond. Mr. Trump made no reference to any of those, and did not seek any kind of endorsement for the need for a response beyond a tightening of sanctions.

This week, Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security and longtime Republican foreign policy aide, wrote in The Atlantic: “Not so long ago, a devastating attack on Saudi oil supplies would almost certainly have elicited an American military response. Ensuring the continued flow of energy from the Middle East was widely seen as crucial, one of the vital American interests that nearly all policymakers believed worth defending.”

But he noted that “fracking and reduced U.S. dependence on Middle East oil, the exhaustion and caution borne by two decades of American wars, a new focus on great-power competition, and the complexities of recent diplomacy with Iran have changed all this to a degree.”

Iran has denied responsibility for the attack, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are armed by Iran, have taken credit. But Trump officials say they are certain that Iran is responsible.

In the days since that attack, Mr. Trump has alternated between threats of fierce military action and calls for patience and restraint.

An American military response could escalate the conflict with potentially devastating consequences for the global economy, which is powered by a Middle Eastern oil flow that Iran can easily disrupt.

Speaking to reporters shortly before his remarks at the United Nations, Mr. Trump projected confidence about the standoff with Tehran, saying that “Iran is coming along very well. We’re in very good shape with respect to Iran.”

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

Source: NYT > World News

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