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World

Trump At The U.N.: Saber Rattling Or Wielding A Saber?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

To dig deeper into President Trump's speech we turn to Susan Glasser, the chief international affairs columnist at Politico. Welcome.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you so much, great to be here.

CHANG: We heard President Trump continue a lot of the same tough talk on North Korea that we've been hearing for a while now. He said the country - that North Korea is on a suicide mission and that the U.S. is ready, willing and able to react. So does getting up in front of the U.N. and saying it in this very formal setting - does it have a greater effect, do you think?

GLASSER: Well, I am still an old-fashioned believer, I guess, in the power of rhetoric and paying attention to what world leaders actually say. And I think at a certain point people will begin to wonder whether he likes saber-rattling more than wielding the saber. And so now we have the question, if we've declared it unacceptable, what are we actually going to do about it beyond escalate the words?

CHANG: But actually, you know, this escalation of the war on words, this saber-rattling as you put it, is Trump actually outlining a different tack towards North Korea compared to previous administrations?

GLASSER: Well, that's been really an interesting question to me, is to try to ascertain, like, how is this war scare different than all the rest? What seems to me to be new is that Trump has made a specific thing that it is unacceptable for them to obtain this ICBM capacity to launch a missile toward the United States homeland. Now, given that he said that is unacceptable and they're about to obtain it, I think that's why we feel like we're in a very specific crisis as opposed to a generalized war of words.

CHANG: That ICBM or intercontinental ballistic missile that you say is a red line, you think that is a new or at least more explicit red line than previous administrations have laid down?

GLASSER: I think it is. And again, it reflects the facts on the ground having changed and that the intelligent estimate of the United States that they've obtained this capacity is different. You know, Trump inherited this problem. It's not one of his own making. His response to it is what is different.

CHANG: There was a lot of talk going into this speech that Trump would be pushing this idea of America First. And he did talk a bit about national sovereignty. But at the same time, he was praising other countries for helping the U.S. impose sanctions on North Korea. So do you see that as Trump acknowledging that going it alone is certainly not ideal, that he does need the help of the global community?

GLASSER: Absolutely. President Trump said both of those things, and they are somewhat contradictory. He used the word sovereignty over and over and over again. And in recent years, that's really been the buzzword of Russia and China and their authoritarian leaders. And they've been saying to the United States and its allies in Europe, don't lecture us. We're independent sovereign nations and we don't want you to impose your system on us. So when Trump uses that word, it's a little bit like waving the flag to Russia and China and others in the world and saying, don't worry. We're not going to lecture you anymore. And then you also have, frankly, some of the more traditional rhetoric of American foreign policy that presidents of both parties often use at the U.N.

CHANG: On Iran, Trump also stuck to a lot of the same messaging that the country has heard from him. He called the Iran nuclear agreement one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the U.S. has ever entered into. Is that the firmest signal we have thus far that he actually intends to pull out of this agreement?

GLASSER: Absolutely. I think it's important that you flagged that because I thought the language was significantly more clear and explicit. That's why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed so enthusiastic about the speech. Donald Trump all but said we're blowing up the Iran deal. We're pulling out of it. He gave very strong language on that, number one. Number two, I was struck by the fact he said, this is a terrible deal for the United States. It's the worst deal ever. And, you know, this was not just a deal between the United States and Iran.

CHANG: Right.

GLASSER: And I think that's an important one to note, that this is basically supported by all the world's major powers. So, you know, Trump's portrayal of it in this most multilateral of forums, the United Nations, struck me as one that was not designed to go over well with that audience.

CHANG: Susan Glasser of Politico, thank you very much for speaking with us.

GLASSER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.