Trump Returns To The UN With Praise For North Korea — And A Warning For Iran

news
President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony for the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement at the Lotte New York Palace hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in New York.
Associated Press/Evan Vucci

UNITED NATIONS — A year after he derided North Korea’s dictator as “Rocket Man,” President Donald Trump expressed lavish praise for Kim Jong Un on Monday as the president prepared to use his second United Nations address to denounce what an aide called Iran’s “global torrent of destructive activity.”


In New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting, Trump told reporters he expects to meet Kim again as a follow-up to their June 12 summit in Singapore, a meeting Trump later claimed had produced a promise from Pyongyang to begin the process of denuclearization.

“Chairman Kim has been terrific,” Trump said Monday, insisting North Korea is “making tremendous progress.”

The progress is difficult to see. To all appearances, negotiations have stalled and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, has found no evidence that Pyongyang has dismantled any nuclear infrastructure or prepared an inventory of its arsenal, the first steps toward denuclearization. U.S. officials have not challenged that assessment.

After attending a counternarcotics conference Monday morning, Trump held bilateral meetings in a suite at the Lotte Palace Hotel in midtown Manhattan. During the first, he and South Korean President Moon Jae-in celebrated the signing of a new trade agreement, marking the first time Trump has inked a bilateral trade deal with another country since taking office.

Trump called the agreement a “historic milestone” although the changes agreed upon — doubling the number of U.S. automobiles that can be sold in South Korea and keeping a tariff on South Korean steel in place through 2041 — were largely cosmetic, given that a broader renegotiation would have required approval from Congress.

“This agreement will reduce bureaucracy and increase prosperity in both of our countries,” Trump said.

Trump and his aides made clear he will focus his ire on Iran this week, and there were signs he is backing down from his demands for a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, a position that had put him at odds with his national security team.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said the administration is planning to keep troops in Syria until Iran withdraws its own forces from the country, outlining a strategy shift that could leave U.S. forces on the ground there indefinitely.

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” Bolton told The Associated Press.

Related: Don’t Expect US Troops To Pull Out Of Syria Anytime Soon »

Later Monday, Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis said at the Pentagon that U.S. troops could stay in Syria after Islamic State is routed, the administration’s goal in the past. He said their mission would be to train local forces and to prevent the terrorist group from regaining a foothold.

Mattis did not say U.S. troops would stay until Iran withdrew its own forces, but he said there was “no daylight” between him and Bolton.

“Part of this overarching problem is we have to address Iran,” Mattis said. “Everywhere you go in the Middle East, where there is instability, you find Iran.”

U.S. policy until now called for withdrawing the 2,500 American troops once they and local militias in eastern Syria had defeated the last remnants of Islamic State, which appears near. That goal was aimed at mollifying Trump, who declared last April that he wanted to pull out of Syria as soon as possible.

Bolton and his allies in the administration have pushed to extend the U.S. military mission to put pressure on Tehran, which has sent troops and supported militias loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war. Iran also has stepped up its longstanding military support to Hezbollah, the anti-Israeli militant group in Lebanon.

The decision to keep U.S. troops in Syria is also aimed at preventing Russia, which has a naval base in Syria, from gaining more of a foothold there.

Related: Mattis Says Syria Policy Has Not Changed After White House Changes Syria Policy »

Speaking at a separate news conference, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said Trump would use his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday to deliver “well-deserved strong words for the Iranian regime.”

He called it “among the worst violators” of U.N. Security Council resolutions, “if not the absolute worst in the world,” adding that Trump will “call on every country to join our pressure campaign in order to thwart Iran’s global torrent of destructive activity.”

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told reporters that Trump would repeat a theme he struck in his first General Assembly address and that has underpinned much of his foreign policy decisions: American sovereignty as the motivating force for U.S. military, economic and strategic actions overseas.

“The United States is determined to be involved in multilateral (organizations) … where we see it, not where it infringes on the American people,” Haley said.

In recent months, the Trump administration has cut funds for U.N. agencies dealing with refugees and peacekeeping; withdrawn from the U.N. Human Rights Council, and announced plans to slash the number of refugees who will be allowed to settle in the United States.

Some White House aides expressed cautious optimism that Trump would stick to his written script on Tuesday. They recalled last year’s speech, when Trump’s most memorable and controversial statement — threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea” and mocking Kim as “Rocket Man” — was not part of his prepared remarks.

Haley acknowledged that Trump’s debut last year was rocky, noting the administration was “trying to figure what the U.S. presence was going to be.”

This year, she said, Trump will lead his first Security Council meeting, Pompeo would attend his first Security Council session, and Vice President Mike Pence would attend an event on Venezuela.

“This year, we’re here with a bang,” she said.

———

©2018 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

A former sailor who was busted buying firearms with his military discount and then reselling some of them to criminals is proving to be a wealth of information for federal investigators.

Julio Pino used his iPhone to record most, if not all, of his sales, court documents said. He even went so far as to review the buyers' driver's license on camera.

It is unclear how many of Pino's customer's now face criminal charges of their own. Federal indictments generally don't provide that level of detail and Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Jackson declined to comment.

Read More Show Less
Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

It all began with a medical check.

Carson Thomas, a healthy and fit 20-year-old infantryman who had joined the Army after a brief stint in college, figured he should tell the medics about the pain in his groin he had been feeling. It was Feb. 12, 2012, and the senior medic looked him over and decided to send him to sick call at the base hospital.

It seemed almost routine, something the Army doctors would be able to diagnose and fix so he could get back to being a grunt.

Now looking back on what happened some seven years later, it was anything but routine.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army Cpt. Katrina Hopkins and Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Rogers, assigned to Task Force Warhorse, pilot a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) operation at Camp Taji, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Javion Siders)

U.S. forces must now ask the Iraqi military for permission to fly in Iraqi airspace before coming to the aid of U.S. troops under fire, a top military spokesman said.

However, the mandatory approval process is not expected to slow down the time it takes the U.S. military to launch close air support and casualty evacuation missions for troops in the middle of a fight, said Army Col. James Rawlinson, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

Read More Show Less
Army Spc. Clayton James Horne

Army Spc. Clayton James Horne died in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 17, making him the eighth non-combat fatality for Operation Inherent Resolve so far this year, defense officials have announced.

Horne, 23, was assigned to the 351st Military Police Company, 160th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Ocala, Florida, a Pentagon news release says.

Read More Show Less
Joshua Yabut/Twitter

The soldier who was arrested for taking an armored personnel carrier on a slow-speed police chase through Virginia has been found not guilty by reason of insanity on two charges, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.

Joshua Phillip Yabut, 30, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — in this case, a 12-ton APC taken from Fort Pickett in June 2018 — and violating the terms of his bond, which stemmed from a trip to Iraq he took in March 2019 (which was not a military deployment).

Read More Show Less