UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump escalated his standoff with North Korea over its nuclear challenge on Tuesday, threatening to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people and mocking its leader, Kim Jong Un, as a “rocket man.”
In a hard-edged speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Trump offered a grim portrait of a world in peril, adopted a more confrontational approach to solving global challenges from Iran to Venezuela, and gave an unabashed defense of U.S. sovereignty.
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump told the 193-member world body, sticking closely to a script.
As loud, startled murmurs filled the hall, Trump described Kim in an acid tone, saying, “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”
His remarks rattled world leaders gathered in the green-marbled General Assembly hall, where minutes earlier U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for statesmanship, saying: “We must not sleepwalk our way into war.”
Trump’s most direct military threat to attack North Korea, in his debut appearance at the General Assembly, was his latest expression of concern about Pyongyang’s repeated launching of ballistic missiles over Japan and underground nuclear tests.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom crossed her arms during the speech.
“It was the wrong speech, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience,” Wallstrom later told the BBC.
A junior North Korean diplomat sat in the delegation’s front-row seat for Trump’s speech, the North Korean U.N. mission said. The mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would do everything in her power to ensure a diplomatic solution. “Anything else would lead to disaster,” she said.
Trump’s saber-rattling rhetoric, with the bare-knuckled style he used to win election last November, was in contrast to the comments of some of his own Cabinet members who have stated a preference for a diplomatic solution.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, who earlier this month raised the prospect of a “massive military response” if needed, on Tuesday told Pentagon reporters that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was working to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
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