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Trump to champion sovereignty at UN General Assembly

After focusing on an “America First” message in his first address last year, President Trump will both continue that message and emphasize sovereignty at this year’s UN General Assembly, which begins this week. The administration will also address Iran’s missile program and the Koreas. NewsHour’s Nick Schifrin joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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    Both Iran's President Rouhani and President Trump are scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. And in recent interviews, U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said President Trump will once again emphasize the administration's America first priorities. For a preview of what's in store during President Trump second appearance before the U.N. General Assembly, I'm joined now by the PBS NewsHour Foreign Affairs and Defence Correspondent, Nick Schifrin.

    Let's start with Iran. Rouhani is leaving the country, coming to New York saying, listen I plan to express myself. There are rising regional tensions there and he's blaming the United States for a horrible attack on his people, just a couple of days ago.


    He is. And the U.S. continues to blame him for regional instability, full stop. And there won't be a day that goes by this week where U.S. officials will not try and put pressure on Iran. Secretary of State and national security adviser are both speaking to a group that advocates for Iranian regime change. The president, as you mentioned, is chairing a Security Council meeting that will focus a lot on Iran. Secretary State's meeting with family members of political prisoners inside Iran. So what they're trying to do, is increase pressure on Iran and have Europe join them.

    But Europe says whoa, wait a minute, hold on. We are trying to keep Iran inside the nuclear deal and you'll see European officials meet with Iranian officials, meet with themselves to try and resist the U.S. pressure, trying to help Iran get around all of these sanctions, which are going to increase throughout the rest of this month and into early November. And U.S. official made a rare admission to me. He said that look, we do want European help. We need European help to put the pressure on Iran. But right now, Europe says we don't want to put pressure on Iran that may lead them to leave the deal. So it's not clear that Europe's going to play ball.


    All right. Shifting gears to North Korea. On the one hand, you have the heads of South and North Korea saying, we want to end our official war, President Trump, we want your help with this. But is U.S. foreign policy on the same page?


    This is an inflection point right now because Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea are unified. They want the war to end because in 1953 it ended with a not a peace declaration but just with a temporary pause, right? And so they want the U.S. to declare the end of the war. There is a real debate inside the U.S. administration. One side says, wait a minute, North Korea hasn't taken enough steps toward denuclearization and the steps they have taken closing the plutonium reactor, for example, a missile engine testing site, they've done that before, they've promised that before. That's one side.

    The other side says, wait a minute, these are good things, these are positive steps. Look at where we were a year ago, we were talking about war. Let's end the war. At least, let's give positive reinforcements to the North Koreans and if we end the war at least that will reduce tensions on the peninsula. Therefore the nuclear weapons are less relevant.


    Still got soldiers on that border between the two Koreas. Finally let's take a look at a clip from what President Trump said last year in an effort to try to set the table for what he might say this year. Listen to that.


    As president of the United States, I will always put America first. Just like you as the leaders of your countries will always and should always put your countries first.


    What's President Trump's message to the world this year?


    The word is sovereignty, in U.S. officials minds. And that line that we just heard went down like a rock last year and he will have a line similar to that going down like a rock again this year because most of the world when they hear the U.S. talk about sovereignty, most of the world hears is unilateralism. But look, this is a reflection of the world view of the president and his aides. They believe that countries are a lot more important and multilateral institutions like the U.N. and countries should and will act only in their national interest.

    Here's the thing, President Trump is not alone. He is not the only populist speaking at the U.N. this week. So we will hear that message from multiple countries and that has what led the U.N. secretary general this week to say that multilateralism is under attack. Now, the U.S. will play its part this week, this is the SuperBowl of diplomacy, the U.N. General Assembly, will see the U.S. inside the multilateral institutions but they are not apologetic about talking about sovereignty as there were they say, as Nikki Haley put it, we're not saying that multilateralism can't work, all we're saying is that sovereignty is our priority.


    All right you've got a lot to report this week. Nick Schifrin, Thanks for joining us.


    Thank you.

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