In UN Debut, Trump Rebukes Overspending, Brags About His Real Estate

In a departure from his more condemnatory comments on the international body on the campaign trail, Trump offered U.S. support to 'make the United Nations great'

U.S. President Donald Trump pats British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on the back during a session on reforming the UN at its headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017.
KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

U.S. President Donald Trump made his debut at the United Nations on Monday, opening his remarks during a panel on reforming the organization by bringing up one of his luxury properties located across the street. He also urged the 193-nation organization to reduce bureaucracy and costs while more clearly defining its mission around the world.

His first words to the international organization were about Trump World Tower, a residential property he opened in 2011. "I actually saw great potential right across the street, to be honest with you," Trump said, moving to pay a compliment to the UN, "and it was only for the reason that the United Nations was here that that turned out to be such a successful project."

The residential skyscraper, located right in United Nations Plaza, holds part of Saudi Arabia's diplomatic mission to the UN, as the kingdom has purchased the entire 45th floor.

While Trump chastised the United Nations in his speech — an organization he sharply criticized as a candidate for president for its spiraling costs — he said the United States would "pledge to be partners in your work" in order to make the UN "a more effective force" for peace across the globe.

"In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential due to bureaucracy and mismanagement," said Trump, who rebuked the United Nations for a ballooning budget. "We are not seeing the results in line with this investment."

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the UN CNN / YouTube

The president pushed the UN to focus "more on people and less on bureaucracy" and to change "business as usual and not be beholden to ways of the past which were not working." He also suggested that the U.S. was paying more than its fair share to keep the New York-based world body operational.

But he also complimented steps the United Nations had taken in the early stages of the reform process and made no threats to withdraw his nation's support. His measured tone stood in stark contrast to his last maiden appearance at a global body, when he stood at NATO's new Brussels headquarters in May and scolded member nations for not paying enough and refusing to explicitly back its mutual defense pact.

While running for office, Trump labeled the UN as weak and incompetent, and not a friend of either the United States or Israel. But he has softened his tone since taking office, telling ambassadors from UN Security Council member countries at a White House meeting that the UN has "tremendous potential."

Trump more recently has praised a pair of unanimous council votes to tighten sanctions on North Korea over its continued nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

Trump's big moment comes Tuesday, when he delivers his first address to a session of the UN General Assembly. The annual gathering of world leaders will open amid serious concerns about Trump's priorities, including his policy of "America First," his support for the UN and a series of global crises. It will be the first time world leaders will be in the same room and able to take the measure of Trump.

The president on Monday praised UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also spoke at the reform meeting and said he shared Trump's vision for a less wasteful UN to "live up to its full potential." The U.S. has asked member nations to sign a declaration on UN reforms, and more than 120 have done so. The president also kicked off his maiden speech at the world body by referring to the Trump-branded apartment tower across First Avenue from the UN

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said Trump's criticisms were accurate at the time, but that it is now a "new day" at the UN An organization that "talked a lot but didn't have a lot of action" has given way to a "United Nations that's action-oriented," she said, noting the Security Council votes on North Korea this month.

Guterres has proposed a massive package of changes, and Haley said the UN is "totally moving toward reform."

Trump riffed on his campaign slogan when asked about his main message for the General Assembly.

"I think the main message is 'make the United Nations great.' Not again, 'make the United Nations great,'" Trump said as he left the UN building. "Such tremendous potential, and I think we'll be able to do this."

Trump also planned separate talks Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron. U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster said "Iran's destabilizing behavior" would be a major focus of those discussions. He also was having dinner with Latin American leaders.

The United States is the largest contributor to the UN budget, reflecting its position as the world's largest economy. It pays 25 percent of the UN's regular operating budget and over 28 percent of the separate peacekeeping budget — a level of spending that Trump has complained is unfair.

The Trump administration is conducting a review of the UN's 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations, which cost nearly $8 billion a year. Cutting their costs and making them more effective is a top priority for Haley.