Trump calls for reform to ‘make the United Nations great’

NEW YORK — “Make the United Nations great — not again. Make the United Nations great.” That will be the message behind President Donald Trump’s maiden speech Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly.

During brief remarks Monday before a U.N. Management, Security and Development meeting, Trump found fault and good in the United Nations. He praised the international body for “affirming the dignity and worth of the human person and striving for international peace.”

Then he added, “Yet in recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement. While the United Nations on a regular budget has increased by 140 percent, and its staff has more than doubled since 2000, we are not seeing the results in line with this investment.”

The president urged the U.N. to focus “more on people and less on bureaucracy” and to change “business as usual and not be beholden to ways of the past.”

The overbureaucratization of the U.N. is a theme that also has been picked up by Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, and to some extent by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who in June oversaw a $600 million cut in U.N. peacekeeping spending.

While Trump criticized U.N. spending, he also praised Gutteres for his reform efforts and noted that most of the 193 member nations support a reform package endorsed by both leaders. He also pledged that the United States would “be partners in your work” to make the organization a more effective force for peace across the globe.

Of course, Trump could not visit U.N. headquarters without making a nod to the world body’s real-estate footprint and its role in prompting him to build the Trump World Tower. He began his short remarks with the observation, “I actually saw great potential right across the street, to be honest with you, and it was only for the reason that the United Nations was here that that turned out to be such a successful project.”

Drama on the international stage

In the past, U.N. reforms have been “successful when things came together,” said Brett Schaefer of the conservative-learning Heritage Foundation. That includes dealing with scandals, such as recent revelations about sexual exploitation by U.N. peacekeeping forces sent to protect vulnerable populations. That Trump co-hosted Monday’s panel also helps.

Schaefer said he expects Tuesday’s address to be similar to the speech Trump made in Warsaw in July — scripted, “aimed at a particular audience,” and a thoughtful effort to persuade other world leaders.

Trump arrived in New York as the international stage has been saturated with drama. In the last month, North Korea expanded its nuclear weapons testing. During a weekend tweet, Trump called strongman Kim Jong-Un “Rocket man” – prompting some critics to complain about his flippant tone.

Last week, terrorists set off a bomb in London’s massive subway system. Muslim refugees fleeing from Myanmar amassed on the border with Bangladesh. And the White House has been trying to work with South American allies to craft a successful strategy that will bring democracy to Venezuela.

Meeting with Netanyahu, Macron

Trump also sat down Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron. State Department senior policy advisor Brian Hook told reporters that Trump, Netanyahu and Macron shared their concerns about Iran’s expansion in the Middle East.

Macron and Trump also discussed the Paris Climate Change accord. Trump’s opinion of the Paris Accord is the same as his view of the international Iran nuclear deal, Hook said. Trump thinks neither was well-negotiated.

Trump’s view of the U.N. Security Council, however, should be positive. “The president has worked well with the Security Council to leverage” the stiff sanctions it placed against Pyongyang, Hook told reporters.

“I think it was an easy task for any president of the United States to get support from the U.N., including China and Russia, given the very erratic behavior of Kim Jong Un and North Korea’s leadership,” opined Reno’s Ty Cobb, a foreign policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan now with the National Security Forum. “I don’t believe that tremendous praise” is due to Trump.

Cobb’s prediction for Trump’s speech — fiery language that goes after the U.N. bureaucracy, a strong point about the U.N.’s tendency to treat Israel like a pariah, but a speech that is not meant to offend the international community.

“What I would like to watch is, does he give the speech his advisers have approved, or does he go off script?” said Cobb.

“My guess is, this time he won’t.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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