WASHINGTON – While his administration slapped new sanctions on Syria after its use of chemical weapons, President Trump told a group of United Nations diplomats Monday that they need to work harder to confront the Syrians and other threats such as North Korea.
"The United Nations doesn't like taking on certain problems," Trump told a group of U.N. ambassadors gathered at the White House, referring to the Security Council's refusal to impose new sanctions on Syria – even after the U.S. carried out an airstrike strike on a Syrian airbase earlier this month.
"I encourage the Security Council to come together to take action all of these many threats," Trump said. Russia and China worked to block new U.N. sanctions.
Meanwhile, Trump's administration is taking action. The latest round of Syria sanctions announced by the Treasury Department covers 271 people identified as being involved with the chemical weapons attack ordered by President Bashar Assad that reportedly killed at least 80 civilians, including 27 children, earlier this month.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions will freeze the assets of 271 employees of a scientific research center involved in the production of chemical weapons, and prevent them from doing any kind of business with the United States.
"The United States is sending a strong message" that it will not tolerate the production and use of chemical weapons, he said Monday.
Officials billed it as the largest sanctions designation ever, in terms of the number of entities it targets.
Shortly before the announcement, Trump held a working lunch with ambassadors from countries that are on the current United Nations Security Council.
Appearing with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, Trump told the group they are doing "a fantastic job," but are going to be "very busy" in the coming years.
"North Korea is a big world problem," Trump said, referring to its nuclear weapons program. "People have put blinders on for decades."
The president also echoed his campaign comments about U.S. contributions to the U.N., complaining about "bloat" and "out-of-control" costs. Trump told the group, "I have long felt that the United Nations is an under-performer, but has tremendous potential."
Yet he has nothing but praise for his own U.N. ambassador, Haley: "I'm so happy with the job that Nikki is doing."
For her part, Haley said she and Trump spoke to ambassadors about issues ranging from Syria to North Korea to "reform" in the way the United Nations does business. "We need them to really engage," Haley said. "A great day for the Security Council."