Live Briefing: At U.N., Global Leaders to Speak After Trump Takes Center Stage
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Trump threatens to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea.
President Trump returned on Tuesday to the combative bombast he employed during his election campaign, declaring in his first address to the General Assembly, “We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” if the United States were forced to defend itself or its allies.
He denounced North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, saying the nation “threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of life” as a result of its nuclear weapons program. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself,” he said, using a mocking nickname for Mr. Kim.
After condemning North Korea, Mr. Trump pivoted to the next “rogue nation” — Iran. He called the nuclear deal with Tehran “an embarrassment” that is “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
Mr. Trump has long portrayed Iran as a sponsor of terrorism and has suggested that the United States may abandon the 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration and five other major powers that limited Iran’s nuclear activities.
So far, Mr. Trump has grudgingly accepted the agreement, even as he has described it as a disgrace. “It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction,” he said.
—RICK GLADSTONE and MEGAN SPECIA
Did Trump breach the U.N. Charter?
President Trump’s threat to destroy North Korea provoked a debate among scholars of international law about whether he had violated a tenet of the United Nations Charter.
Article 2(4) of the Charter says countries should “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force” against another country, and grants exceptions only for instances sanctioned by the Security Council or acts of self-defense.
In this case, there was no authorization from the Security Council, so the question is: Was Mr. Trump justified on the basis of self-defense?
John B. Bellinger III, who served as a legal adviser in the administration of George W. Bush, said that despite his “colorful” choice of words, Mr. Trump was on solid ground, invoking the self-defense argument.
“His threat to destroy North Korea did not violate the U.N. Charter because he said that the United States would use force only ‘if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies,’ ” Mr. Bellinger said by email. “The Charter specifically allows a U.N. member to use force in self-defense.”
Kevin Jon Heller, a law professor at the University of London, said he believed that Mr. Trump had overstepped.
“The problem is that self-defense must always be proportionate to the armed attack, and Trump clearly threatened disproportionate force,” Mr. Heller argued. “Had he said a nuclear attack would require wiping North Korea off the face of the earth, that might have been a lawful threat. But he did not qualify the threat in any way; on the contrary, he suggested North Korea would have to be destroyed in response to any armed attack on the U.S. or its allies. That is an unlawful threat that violates Art. 2(4).” — SOMINI SENGUPTA
Many heads of state to sign treaty banning nuclear weapons.
When negotiators representing two-thirds of the General Assembly celebrated in July as they finalized a treaty that would outlaw nuclear weapons, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states were not among them. And none of those states will be attending a formal signing ceremony on Wednesday at the United Nations.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, as it is officially known, will enter into legal force 90 days after ratification by 50 countries. Secretary General António Guterres, who supported the negotiations, was planning to speak at the ceremony, as was President Luis Guillermo Solís of Costa Rica, whose ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Elayne G. Whyte Gómez, led the talks. Many heads of state and foreign ministers were expected to attend and sign the treaty.
The United States and the other nuclear-armed states not only boycotted the negotiations, they sharply criticized the treaty’s premise and urged other countries not to sign it.
The Americans in particular ridiculed the treaty, arguing that North Korea and any other rogue entity in possession of nuclear weapons would ignore its provisions, rendering the prohibition meaningless.
Proponents of the treaty said they had no expectation that nuclear-armed states would accept it at first. Rather, supporters said, they hoped that widespread acceptance of the treaty elsewhere would eventually increase the stigma of possessing such weapons because of their destructive power.
Like the treaties that banned chemical weapons, land mines and cluster munitions, the nuclear weapons treaty could change perceptions, supporters contend.
“This treaty is a clear indication that the majority of the world no longer accepts nuclear weapons and do not consider them legitimate weapons, creating the foundation of a new norm,” the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said in a statement.
The treaty would outlaw the use, threat of use, testing, development, production, possession, transfer and stationing in a different country of nuclear weapons. — RICK GLADSTONE