President Donald Trump accused China Wednesday of attempting to interfere with the upcoming United States midterm congressional elections, and claimed its efforts are motivated by opposition to his tough trade policy.
Trump, speaking in front of world leaders while chairing the United Nations Security Council for the first time, did not present evidence for his claim, which came amid an ongoing special counsel investigation into Russia's attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election and concerns that the November elections could also be vulnerable.
"Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election," Trump said "They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade."
U.S. officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. With the elections less than two months away, U.S. intelligence officials have said they are not now seeing the intensity of Russian intervention registered in 2016 but are particularly concerned about activity by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
Trump also used his moment chairing the Security Council meeting about nuclear proliferation to issue a strong warning to nuclear-aspirant Iran, which he deemed the "world's leading sponsor of terror" fueling "conflict around the region and far beyond."
The president has withdrawn the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, accusing the country of destabilizing actions throughout the region and support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Tough sanctions are due to kick in against Tehran in November, and Trump warned that there would be "severe consequences" for any nation that defied them.
Despite his tough talk, Trump said he could envision relations with Iran moving along a similar "trajectory" as ones with North Korea. A year ago at the U.N., Trump belittled its leader Kim Jong Un as "Rocket Man" and threatened to annihilate the country, but on Wednesday he touted the "the wonderful relationship" with Kim and teased that details of a second summit between the two men could be released soon.
He also condemned violence in the ongoing bloody civil war in Syria, saying that the "butchery is enabled by Russia and Iran."
Trump also waded into thorny Middle East politics, endorsing the two-state solution to bring an end the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A day after being greeted with laughter by world leaders still uncertain how to manage his "America First" ideology, Trump explicitly backed Israel, noted the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and suggested that he saw progress on the horizon for Middle East peace.
"I like two-state solution," Trump said in his most clear endorsement of the plan as he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "That's what I think works best."
Trump indicated that moving the embassy was "a big chip" the U.S. delivered to the Israelis.
"I took probably the biggest chip off the table. And so obviously they have to start, you know, we have to make a fair deal. We have to do something. Deals have to be good for both parties."
"Now that will also mean that Israel will have to do something that is good for the other side."
The two-state "solution" is mostly aspirational. Ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians over the division of territory, borders and governance has spawned violence going back years and long stymied Mideast peace efforts.
Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv triggered considerable protest from the Palestinians and expressions of condemnation from many American allies who worried about further violence that could destabilize the fragile region. Trump said that his administration's peace plan, in part helmed by his son-in-law senior adviser Jared Kushner, would be released in the coming months.
Trump's meeting with Netanyahu came, symbolically, just ahead of his chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council about nuclear proliferation. The president had suggested, in a recent tweet, that Iran could be his focus.
The high-profile Security Council meeting came a day after Trump poured scorn on the "ideology of globalism" and heaped praise on his own administration's achievements in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly that drew head shakes and even mocking laughter from his audience of fellow world leaders.
"The U.S. will not tell you how to live and work or worship," Trump said as he unapologetically promoted his "America First" agenda. "We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return."
Speaking in triumphal terms, Trump approached his address to the world body as something of an annual report to the world on his country's progress since his inauguration. He showcased strong economic numbers, declared that the U.S. military is "more powerful than it has ever been before" and crowed that in "less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country."
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