Iran, Venezuela Fire Back After Trump’s Strong Criticism at UN

By Patrick Goodenough | September 20, 2017 | 4:19am EDT
Responding to President Trump’s speech, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza speaks to reporters at U.N. headquarters on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. (UN Photo/Ariana Lindquist)

( – President Trump’s debut U.N. General Assembly speech Tuesday drew strong reactions from two of the three regimes he criticized most sharply, although the response from Kim Jong-un – whom Trump derisively labeled “rocket man” and said he was on a “suicide mission” – is yet to be seen.

Trump flailed the “depraved” regime in Pyongyang for human rights abuses and a “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles,” and warned that if forced to defend itself or its allies the U.S. could “totally destroy North Korea.”

The Iranian regime was “murderous,” “reckless” and “oppressive,” he said, accusing it of destabilizing behavior across the region and violating human rights at home. Trump pointedly distanced the “good people of Iran” from the harsh criticism, saying they want change and referring to their “nation’s proud roots as a center of civilization, culture and wealth.”

And on Venezuela, Trump said the Maduro regime has “destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology,” adding that wherever socialism or communism has been adopted, from the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, “it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did not make the journey to U.N. headquarters for the annual General Assembly high-level opening session and Kim Jong-un is not known to have left North Korea since taking power in 2012, but Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif both traveled to New York for this week’s meetings.

However neither the two Iranians nor Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza were in the chamber for Trump’s speech, and North Korea’s U.N. ambassador Ja Song-nam deliberately walked out before the president spoke.

The Iranian and Venezuelan reactions came afterwards, from their respective foreign ministers.

“Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times – not the 21st century UN,” tweeted Zarif, saying it was “unworthy of a reply.”

He added that Trump’s “[f]ake empathy for Iranians fools no one.”

Just before the close of Tuesday’s session, an Iranian diplomat delivered a lengthy “right of reply” statement in the General Assembly chamber, criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s earlier speech – but said nothing about Trump’s one.

Back home, Iran’s Mehr news agency called Trump’s speech “surprisingly hostile.”

There was no immediate reaction from Pyongyang to Trump’s strong words of criticism. The North Korean regime is sensitive to slights directed at its young leader.

When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last March called Kim a “crazy fat kid,” the foreign ministry said it amounted to a “declaration of war.” This month its official news agency responded to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley’s criticism by likening her to a “prostitute” who is “crazily swishing her skirt.”

More seriously, North Korea has responded to international condemnation, especially in the form of Security Council sanctions resolutions, by carrying out increasingly provocative actions, including its sixth and most powerful underground nuclear test this month, followed last week by the launch of a ballistic missile that flew further than any had done previously.

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive at U.N. headquarters on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

Venezuela’s Arreaza saved his reaction to the American president’s speech for the U.N.’s media stakeout microphones.

“The country that violates human rights all over the world seems to have the moral authority to come and speak to the rest of the countries as [if] they were his employees,” he told reporters.

Arreaza accused Trump of spreading a “racist and supremacist” ideology, and said that “for a moment, we didn’t know if we were listening to President Reagan in 1982 or to President Trump in 2017.”

The U.S. government was acting “in complete violation of all the principles of the U.N. Charter,” he said. Venezuela did not accept Trump’s “threats.”

In Caracas, Maduro was quoted as calling Trump “the new Hitler of international politics.”

Speaking at an “anti-imperialist” protest march by supporters in the capital, he said Trump should “swallow his words of hatred and war.”

Maduro also lashed out at Latin American leaders for attending a working dinner hosted by Trump in New York on Monday, saying they had gathered “to receive the orders of the devil.”

Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, used the U.N. platform in 2006 to call President George W. Bush “the devil” and said the podium – where Bush had spoken a day earlier – “still smells of sulphur.”

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