WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump vowed on Tuesday night to limit foreign aid to only countries that align themselves with his administration, following up on his threats to suspend funds to countries that refused to support his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The promise of new legislation came toward the end of his first State of the Union address, a landmark annual speech at which the administration typically sets major policy goals for the year to come.
Referencing a United Nations vote in December, in which the world body voted overwhelmingly (128-9) to reject the president’s unilateral move, the president elevated his past rhetoric of withdrawing monetary support for such countries into legislation.
“Dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this recognition,” Trump said. “In 2016 American taxpayers generously sent those same countries more than $20 billions of dollars in aid. That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to friends of America, not enemies of America.”
Trump’s December 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and making plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, sparked consternation and fury across much of the world, castigating the decision as favoring Israel and harming the possibility of peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
After the UN measure was adopted, Trump told reporters allies that voted against the US would pay a price.
“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes,” he said. “Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
Trump has also threatened to remove aid to the Palestinians over their boycotting of US-led peace efforts, though he did not specifically mention that during the address.
He defended the Jerusalem recognition as having been endorsed by the entire Senate just months earlier, but Democrats remained seated during an ovation for the move, underscoring a partisan divide over Trump’s policies toward Israel and growing apathy for Israel’s right-wing government.
A Pew survey released last week showed Democratic support for Israel and the Palestinians nearly even, while Republicans still heavily favor the Jewish state.
Addressing a packed chamber of the US House of Representatives, filled with representatives from all three branches of American government, Trump also referenced the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and his demand that Congress strengthen the landmark pact or that he would leave it.
“I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal,” he said.
He did not, however, repeat his threat to abrogate the deal, only alluding to it.
Last fall, he “decertified” the deal under domestic legislation, forcing Congress to undergo a review period.
Charging that Iran was not living up to the “spirit” of the agreement, Trump asked lawmakers at that time to unilaterally impose “trigger points” on the deal that would reimpose nuclear-related sanctions against Tehran should it overstep certain bounds.
Those trigger points, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters at the time, would be aimed primarily at addressing what the administration sees as flaws in the deal, including its sunset clauses, which will lift limitations on Iran’s nuclear program when the accord expires in over a decade, and Iran’s ability to continue developing its ballistic missile program.
Trump signed a waiver earlier this month, keeping the deal alive, but said it would be the last time he did so unless both Congress and European countries heed his call to fortify the accord.