President Donald Trump on Wednesday opened his United Nations Security Council speech by taking a shot at China, claiming, without providing evidence, that it's trying to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections.
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"Regrettably we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election, coming up in November," Trump said. "They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade and we are winning on trade. We are winning on every level. We don't want them to meddle or interfere in our upcoming elections."
When asked for evidence, Trump told reporters while leaving the U.N.: "Plenty of evidence."
He later tweeted photos of a six-page ad in the Des Moines Register newspaper that was bought by the Chinese government-run media outlet China Watch. The ad, which looks like a mini newspaper, touts Chinese business and leadership and criticizes Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods.
A senior administration official said it was just one way China is trying to assert influence globally. Vice President Mike Pence will deliver an address on the scope of China's efforts later this month, the official added.
The Chinese foreign minister denied Trump's claim, firing back during the Security Council session and calling the charge "nonsense."
"We do not and will not interfere in any country's domestic affairs," he said, according to the U.N. interpreter. "We refuse to accept any unwarranted accusations against China and we call upon other countries to also observe the purposes of the U.N. charter and not to interfere in other countries' internal affairs."
Trump's comment on election interference was somewhat surprising given that the Security Council meeting, which was called by the U.S. delegation, was supposed to focus on nuclear proliferation.
Trump, in his speech, then pivoted to the threats posed by nuclear and chemical weapons. He touted his administration's "bold action" on the issue, saying officials are confronting these "sinister threats."
The world has "rightly focused on the dangers of nuclear weapons," he said, urging foreign leaders to "never forget the threats posed by biological and weapons."
He specifically mentioned Russia and Iran as being connected to the continuing violence in Syria before reiterating the need for U.S. sanctions on Iran.
"The Syrian regime's butchery is enabled by Russia and Iran," Trump said. "The Iranian regime exports violence, terror and turmoil. It illicitly procures sensitive items to advance its ballistic missile program and proliferates these missiles all across the Middle East. The regime is the world's leading sponsor of terror and and fuels conflict across the region and far beyond. A regime with this track record must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon."
"For this reason I announced earlier this year that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. This horrible, one-sided deal allowed Iran to continue its path towards a bomb and gave the regime a cash lifeline when they needed it the most. They were in big, big trouble. They needed cash," he said.
Trump made his displeasure with Iran known in his Tuesday speech to the General Assembly as well, calling on "all nations to isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues" as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign meant to ultimately drive Iran back to the negotiating table to get a new, more comprehensive deal.
Between threats to “come after you” and invitations to sit down with no preconditions, the administration’s Iran policy has been driving divisions with and confusion among European allies still rankled by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton served as the administration’s attack dogs on the issue. While Iran met with the remaining parties of the JCPOA at U.N. headquarters Monday, both men spoke Tuesday off-campus at not a U.N.-sponsored event, but a summit organized by the political group United Against a Nuclear Iran.
Pompeo said he was “disturbed and indeed deeply disappointed” by the announcement, calling it “one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable” and accusing Europe of “enabling Iran’s violent export of revolution” -- a strong accusation against allies.
Bolton seemed less concerned by it, saying the European Union was “strong on rhetoric and weak on follow-through. ... We will be watching the development of this structure that doesn’t exist yet and has no target date to be created,” he added dryly, before asserting to cheers: “We do not intend to allow our sanctions to be evaded by Europe or anybody else.”
In fact, enforcement of all U.S. sanctions will be “aggressive and unwavering,” Bolton said, and he announced the administration would pursue more sanctions on Iran after the second round of nuclear sanctions that were suspended under the nuclear deal are implemented in early November.