Donald Trump attacks UN officials over North Korea and Syria 'failures' as they sit beside him

The president calls for the UN to reform but thinks it has 'potential'

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Tuesday 25 April 2017 01:03
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US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and National Security Advisor HR McMaster listen as Donald Trump speaks before a working lunch with UN Security Council member nations at the White House
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and National Security Advisor HR McMaster listen as Donald Trump speaks before a working lunch with UN Security Council member nations at the White House

Donald Trump has called the Security Council’s inaction against Syria's President Bashar al Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons as a “failure” while they were sitting next to him after a White House luncheon.

The president said he is “disappointed” because the “UN doesn’t like to take on problems and said the 15 member countries of the Security Council have remained “blindfolded” for decades to taking action on threats like North Korea.

Sources told The Independent that the Security Council also met with members of Congress for coffee and discussed North Korea, Syria, and what Mr Trump called "big reforms" to the UN that certain US legislators and Mr Trump would like to see.

US Ambassador the UN Nikki Haley, who holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month - said the meeting was a chance for members to see what the president is “engaged in foreign policy” and how he “really need[s] them to engage.”

He appeared to attempt a joke regarding Ms Haley - suggesting she could be replaced if unpopular - but commented that she is doing a “great job”.

Mr Trump’s criticism of the UN prior to the lunch meeting is well-documented - he called it a “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time” during his 2016 campaign.

He has also made clear his dislike of the fact that the US shoulders much of the burden for funding the UN, but made clear at the meeting he would be less concerned about this if the UN did a "good job".

"If we do a great job, I care much less about the budget because you're talking about peanuts compared to the important work you're doing," he said.

Richard Gowan, a UN expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Independent that Mr Trump’s comments “could actually be useful blather.”

He said the Security Council has been “adrift” on issues like South Sudan and Syria because of infighting among the five permanent members, which includes Russia.

Mr Trump was accurate in his statement that certain issues like those have been discussed repeatedly over the years, without any real change.

Ms Haley also commented that the meeting at the White House was a chance for the Security Council to see that the US is all “about action.” She said "reforms on spending" and past resolutions were discussed, but member countries have not commented as yet as to how those reforms were received.

He “may just scare a few Council members into being a bit more constructive in future,” said Mr Gowan.

However, Mr Trump’s comments on US contributions to the UN could prove geopolitically dangerous.

The president has used the word “unfair” to describe American taxpayer contributions to both the North American Treaty Organisation (Nato) military alliance and the UN before.

“US funding to the UN gives Washington huge leverage,” Mr Gowan said.

Any major cuts to funding from the US - covering approximately 22 per cent of the overall budget and 28 per cent of the peacekeeping budget - could open the door to China, undermining Mr Trump’s “America First” motto.

Mr Gowan noted that “China could easily fill the financial gap and increase its own leverage.”

With North Korea as a major problem “unaddressed for far too long” according to Mr Trump, China’s increased financial leverage could result in a thornier political conflict with China and Russia for the US.

China’s bombers are already on “high alert” due to Mr Trump’s recent stance on North Korea. He is moving a fleet of aircraft carriers to the Sea of Japan as a result of a failed nuclear test by Pyongyang.

Despite the seemingly undiplomatic language, Mr Gowan said publicly dismissing the UN while continuing to work with them behind the scenes is fairly common for Republican presidents.

Mr Trump said that though the UN is “underperforming,” the group has “tremendous potential.”

“I see fantastic things ahead for the United Nations,” he added.

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