WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump called on Congress Tuesday night to pass legislation that would undergird his threat against countries which vote against his policies at the UN, following a scathing referendum there last month on his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
In his first State of the Union address, Trump took note that his December 6 decision on Jerusalem to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv has previously earned bipartisan support from lawmakers.
"I took an action endorsed unanimously by the Senate just months before: I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump told a joint session of Congress, to the applause of Republicans and to the smiles of his daughter, Ivanka. "Shortly afterwards, dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America's sovereign right to make this recognition."
"In 2016, American taxpayers generously sent those same countries more than $20 billion in aid," he said. "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 America's friends."
Before the UN vote on December 21, Trump threatened countries that dared vote against him, warning it would be unacceptable for "of these nations that take our money to then vote against us."
"They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don't care," he said at the time.
"This isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you, and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they're doing," he continued. "People are tired of the United States– the people that live here, our great citizens that love this country – they're tired of this country being taken advantage of, and we're not going to be taken advantage of any longer."
Trump did not specify what legislation he would like to see Congress pass. But his administration has been exploring ways to cut foreign aid for months. In recent weeks, Trump has also directly threatened to cut aid of all sorts to the Palestinian Authority, and to international bodies biased toward it in its ongoing conflict with Israel.
He did not mention his goal of achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The PA has refused to engage with the Trump administration since the December 6 announcement.
Trump also touted his support for Iranian protesters earlier this month, and called on Congress "to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal." But he declined to reissue his previous threat to withdraw from the deal completely, issued just weeks ago upon a deadline to waive sanctions relevant to the nuclear accord.
His administration is currently engaged in negotiations with European powers to try and find a path forward.
"As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries," he said. "When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent. America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom."