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Politics

US may have to 'totally destroy North Korea,' Trump warns at UN

President mentions Japanese schoolgirl abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 19.   © Reuters

UNITED NATIONS -- U.S. President Donald Trump denounced the North Korean regime in his first speech at the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, scorning its leader, Kim Jong Un, as a "rocket man" on a "suicide mission."

"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Trump told the leaders, ministers and envoys of 193 countries gathered in New York for the annual event.

"The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary," he said, adding, "That's what the United Nations is for."

The American leader applauded China and Russia for agreeing to two recent back-to-back sanctions resolutions against North Korea -- adopted by a unanimous vote of the Security Council, one week apart -- in response to the firing of an ICBM over Japan and the country's sixth nuclear test. But he pointedly added, "It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict."

Trump also touched on gruesome mistreatment of foreign nationals attributed to Pyongyang, including the American college student who died shortly after returning home and the kidnapping of Japanese girl Megumi Yokota in the 1970s.

Megumi Yokota was abducted by North Korea when she was 13 years old.

"We were all witness to the regime's deadly abuse when an innocent American college student, Otto Warmbier, was returned to America only to die a few days later," said Trump "We saw it in the assassination of the dictator's brother using banned nerve agents in an international airport. We know it kidnapped a sweet 13-year-old Japanese girl from a beach in her own country to enslave her as a language tutor for North Korea's spies."

He then went on to call the North's government "twisted."

As is often the case for speeches during a General Assembly opening week, a good portion of Trump's approximately 45-minute address was dedicated to criticism of countries he described as "the wicked few" -- the regimes of North Korea and Iran, as well as that of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump also unleashed sharp attacks on Venezuela and Cuba, in a stark reversal of the reconciliatory moves made toward the end of former President Barack Obama's term to reopen U.S. relations with Cuba.

"From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure," Trump said, after suggesting that Venezuela's troubles were due to a faithful implementation of socialism. A pause after that suggestion, perhaps with the expectation of applause, was received with brief laughter and few claps.

On the other hand, the president was eager to praise his own country's achievements and contributions, putting the principle of "America first" at front and center, with a commitment to the U.N.'s ideals of multilateralism falling somewhere in the background.

"The United States will forever be a great friend to the world and especially to its allies. But we can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return," Trump said. "As long as I hold this office, I will defend America's interests above all else."

Reiterating his hallmark grievance against the international body since his presidential campaign, Trump also suggested that the U.S.'s share of the U.N. budget was unfairly high -- picking up 22% of the tab each year. But he moderated his rhetoric somewhat by adding that if the U.N. could accomplish its stated goals, including the goal of peace, "this investment would easily be well worth it."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who spoke before Trump at the opening of the General Assembly, also singled out North Korea as the first of seven great threats today, noting that anxieties about nuclear war are currently at levels not seen since the Cold War.

Unlike Trump, however, Guterres urged "diplomatic engagement" and cautioned against inflammatory rhetoric, suggesting that "when tensions rise, so does the chance of miscalculation."

"Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings," Guterres said, pushing for a political, not a military, solution.

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