NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump (left) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (right) address the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations yesterday. — AFP

UNITED NATIONS: US President Donald Trump yesterday called for Iran's isolation while welcoming another former adversary, North Korea, in from the cold in an unabashedly boastful speech to the United Nations General Assembly which provoked laughter from fellow leaders. Trump also lashed out at the OPEC oil cartel, China's trade policies and the International Criminal Court, which he vowed the United States would never accept.

Hours before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke from the same rostrum, Trump denounced the clerical regime in Tehran for sowing "chaos, death and destruction" as he defended his decision to ditch an internationally brokered nuclear deal four months ago. But after stunning the global body with his bellicose language on North Korea a year ago, including a threat to "totally destroy" Kim Jong Un's state, Trump instead praised his one-time arch enemy for his "courage" as he hailed progress in fragile peace efforts with Pyongyang.

Since Trump came to power, promising that the world's most powerful country would follow an "America First" foreign policy, there have been growing fears about the US commitment to multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.

In his speech at the opening of the assembly, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said trust in the rules-based global order and among states was "at a breaking point" and international cooperation becoming more difficult, without specifically mentioning Trump. "Today, world order is increasingly chaotic. Power relations are less clear," Guterres told the 193-nation assembly. "Universal values are being eroded. Democratic principles are under siege," he added just minutes before Trump was to take the podium.

Trump however robustly attacked the "globalist" view of the world and vowed that "America will never apologize for protecting its citizens". He said that the UN-backed International Criminal Court has "no jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority" and said that his administration - which has recently choked off aid to the Palestinians - would only support "our friends" in the future. "The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America's sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy."

He also reserved harsh words for OPEC, the global oil cartel that includes both US allies and foes. "OPEC and OPEC nations are, as usual, ripping off the rest of the world, and I don't like it. Nobody should like it." A Gulf diplomat said in response that "we have been doing our fair share of burden sharing". Boasting that his team "has achieved more than any administration in the history of our country," Trump was met with laughter, highly unusual in the solemn General Assembly. "I didn't expect that reaction, but that's okay," Trump responded.

But the most closely watched passage of his speech came when he turned to Iran. "We cannot allow the world's leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet's most dangerous weapons," Trump said, in an allusion to Tehran's support for Islamic militant movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. "We cannot allow a regime that chants 'Death to America' and that threatens Israel with annihilation, to possess the means to deliver a nuclear warhead to any city on Earth," he said. "We ask all nations to isolate Iran's regime as long as its aggression continues."

French President Emmanuel Macron used his speech at the assembly to urge "dialogue and multilateralism" on dealing with Iran, crediting the 2015 accord with curbing Tehran's nuclear program. Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in May, to the dismay of the other parties which had invested years in negotiations to achieve a milestone agreement on keeping Iran's nuclear ambitions in check.

Speaking later, Rouhani accused Trump of trying to topple his government as he poured cold water on the idea of resuming talks with Washington after its pullout from an international nuclear accord. "It is ironic that the US government does not even conceal its plan for overthrowing the same government it invites to talks," Rouhani said in a speech. "For dialogue to take place, there is no need for a photo opportunity. The two sides can listen to each other right here in this Assembly. I am starting the dialogue right here, and state, in unequivocal terms, that the question of international security is not a toy in American domestic politics."

The Iranian leader said he was pleased that the international community did not follow the Trump administration's "unilateral and illegal withdrawal from the JCPOA," the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the nuclear deal is known. "Unlawful unilateral sanctions in themselves constitute a form of economic terrorism," said Rouhani.

Even though they spoke from the same stage, both Trump and Rouhani have ruled out a meeting on the sidelines of the assembly. In a tweet yesterday morning, Trump said he had no plans to meet Rouhani "despite requests" to do so. "Maybe someday in the future. I am sure he is an absolutely lovely man!" he said. Rouhani has said he does not want to meet Trump. He told NBC News that the US leader must first repair the damage done by exiting the nuclear deal. "That bridge must be rebuilt," he said.

Today, Trump will for the first time chair a meeting of the Security Council on non-proliferation that will give him a fresh opportunity to make the case for a tougher international stance on Iran. While he praised China's President Xi Jinping for his role in the North Korea peace process, Trump had harsh words for Beijing amid a growing trade war, saying the commercial imbalance with the Asian power "cannot be tolerated".

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday sharply criticized the use of economic sanctions "as weapons" in his address to the UN, in an implicit swipe at the United States. "None of us can remain silent to the arbitrary cancellation of commercial agreements, the spreading prevalence of protectionism and the use of economic sanctions as weapons," Erdogan told the UN General Assembly.

Ties between Washington and Ankara hit a low in August when Trump announced steep new tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum in response to the detention of an American pastor in Turkey. The Turkish lira has taken a beating on the currency market, sparking fears in Turkey of a full-blown economic crisis. "Nobody wants the world to experience a new economic rupture," said Erdogan. He did not accuse the United States directly but pointed to "countries that are persistently trying to create chaos". "It is very easy to create chaos but it's difficult to re-establish order, and today some countries are persistently trying to create chaos."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday he was hopeful Turkey would release this month the American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who has been detained for nearly two years on terror charges. Erdogan urged world leaders to crack down on followers of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish preacher whom the president has accused of backing a failed coup in 20016 and considers the leader of a terror organization. Calling once again for his extradition, Erdogan alleged that Gulen was living in Pennsylvania "in a very well-off fashion".

Erdogan's communication adviser Fahrettin Altun posted on Twitter a picture of Erdogan and Trump shaking hands and smiling at the UN. Ankara and Washington are also at odds over diverging interests in Syria, where Washington supports Kurdish rebels whom Turkey regards as terrorists. "Those who equip terrorists with tens of thousands of trucks and thousands of cargo planes loaded with arms for the sake of their tactical interests will most definitely feel sorrow in the future," Erdogan said. Washington has expressed concern that NATO member Turkey's planned deployment of the Russian-made S-400 could risk the security of some US-made weapons and other technology used by Turkey, including the F-35 jet. - Agencies