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President Trump's Message: Make The United Nations Great

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Later this morning, President Trump will address the United Nations, a body he once derided as an elitist club. Yesterday, a reporter asked Trump what his message to the U.N. will be, and he replied, quote, "the main message is, make the United Nations great - not again. Make the United Nations great," end quote. For more on what the president will say in New York, we are joined by Michael Anton. He's spokesman for Trump's National Security Council. He's in New York.

Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL ANTON: Hi. How are you?

KELLY: I am well, thanks. And thanks for joining us. What should we interpret that comment from the president to mean - as he's saying he thinks the U.N. wasn't great before, but it has the potential to be?

ANTON: I think he's saying that the U.N. was founded in the wake of the Second World War with very lofty ideals that it hasn't always lived up to, but that the institution itself does do and has done some great work, even if it hasn't lived up to all of its ideals, and hopes and aspirations - but it has the potential to. And he embraced very strongly the secretary-general's reform agenda in a pretty full meeting yesterday and - were around 130 nations in there, pledging to work with the secretary-general on the reform agenda to make the United Nations more effective and more efficient. And I think the president's hopeful that if those reforms are pursued and implemented, the institution can really be much better than it has been.

KELLY: Well, let me let you give us some detail of what the thrust of what we'll hear today from the president will be when he addresses the General Assembly this morning. I suppose my big question is, how will he reconcile his America First agenda with America's historic leadership role in the world.

ANTON: I think he - as he has said in many of his speeches so far - in particular, the two big foreign policy speeches that he's given - the first one in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May and the second one in Warsaw in July - there really isn't a tension there, or at least much less than meets the eye. The America First agenda recognizes that America First does not mean America alone. It doesn't mean America without allies or America not taking a leadership role. It does mean that America does those things because they're in America's interests, and it sees foreign policy through the lens of American interests.

And I think the president viewed the last two and maybe even three administrations as - and, you know, as having gone astray from that vision and too often pursued, for lack of a better term, multilateralism, or internationalism or globalism as ends in themselves rather than as ways to further American interests. And he thought that a course corrective was necessary. And he ran explicitly on the tenets of what that course correction would be, and now his foreign policy is to implement them.

KELLY: Let me put a point to you by someone who might disagree with that. This is a criticism made by Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He recently wrote, and I'll quote, "the U.S. will no longer play the leading international role that has defined its foreign policy for three quarters of a century." Haass goes on, "the traditional U.S. commitment to global organizations has been superseded by the idea of America First." Michael Anton, what's your reaction?

ANTON: I would say I completely disagree with the first half of that formulation. And the second half, there's probably an element of truth to it. The idea that America's abandoning any leadership role is just wrong. I think the president has proved that by playing a leadership role, first in the Muslim world when he went to Saudi Arabia and convened the leaders of 50 - more than 50 Muslim nations. The only two not in the hall - the leaders of Iran and Syria were not there because they were explicitly not invited as being unwelcome because they are unhelpful - to say the least - regional players who try to destabilize their part of the world.

KELLY: But part of the historic...

ANTON: He's maintained a leadership role...

KELLY: Go on.

ANTON: ...in NATO. He's been criticized for criticizing NATO, but in fact, NATO members and NATO leadership have said that his criticism has been actually helpful because NATO had kind of gotten used to the United States saying, well, you all have to meet your commitments, and not following through. And many members thought, you know, every time the U.S. says that, we just smile, and we take it. And we realize that there's - they're not serious, and we can keep on doing business as usual. And, you know, this president has made clear that that's not going to work. And the NATO members have responded by increasing their defense budgets and increasing the burden sharing, I think because they really believe that this time, the United States seriously means it. I mean, that's leadership.

KELLY: Part of the way the U.S. has historically exercised leadership on the global stage is through international alliances and deals. And this president does seem to have devoted more energy to exiting those alliances and deals than to nurturing them.

ANTON: He has not exited any alliances that I know of. He's exited one...

KELLY: The Trans-Pacific Partnership.

ANTON: That's a - well, that was a - an unratified trade agreement that the United...

KELLY: The Paris climate accord.

ANTON: The Paris climate agreement, he did exit, and he made very plain in a speech in the Rose Garden, in fact, that detailed his reasoning - he also made very plain that he's open to re-entering the Paris climate agreement on terms that are favorable to the United States, and we're negotiating a new agreement, if that's possible. The terms...

KELLY: So just to be clear, it's not - let me just press you on that one because there's a lot of confusion on this point. Are you saying the U.S. might not withdraw from the Paris climate accord after all?

ANTON: I'm saying exactly what the president said in the Rose Garden. And it's been reiterated that - since by himself and by his staff that if the United States can work out terms that are favorable to our countries and our industries, that's possible. If not, we definitely are moving ahead with withdrawal.

That's the only - you know, when you say he's exited alliances, he hasn't exited any alliances at all. In fact, he's strengthened our alliances in meetings in Washington with key allies, by going to foreign capitals - the trip to France and the Bastille Day with America's oldest ally, with which the United States has in recent years had something of a rocky relationship - was strengthened enormously by that visit to Paris this year. And the president has, you know, both on a personal level and on an alliance level, really strengthened the alliance with France and with President Macron. In fact, he met with him yesterday and had a very, extremely positive and friendly meeting where they talked substantive business, but they also talked about the history of the alliance and reminisced a bit about the grandeur of that trip to Paris in July.

KELLY: And I could come back at you and point out that he's threatened very recently to walk away from NAFTA. He's threatening to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal.

ANTON: Well, we - those are, again, not alliances. NAFTA is a trade deal that the president has made clear during the course of his campaign and even before he ran for president that he thinks was negotiated on terms that disadvantage American workers, American businesses, American industries. The United States is in the process of renegotiating the terms of that deal. And it's our hope that we can work out terms that are more favorable to our industries, and won't have - in the end have to exit.

KELLY: Michael Anton, before I let you go, let me just ask you a question I'm curious about. A senior White House official briefed reporters yesterday that the president has personally spent a lot of time crafting what he's going to say. Does that mean we should expect him to stick to the teleprompter this morning?

ANTON: I think whatever the president says will be what the president wants to say. My experience so far is that when he goes into a large forum with a prepared text that he's personally worked on and invested in, he tends to stick to it. But I make no predictions. The speeches will always be his own.

KELLY: Watch this space. That's National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton. Thanks for taking the time.

ANTON: OK.

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