New York – U.S. President Donald Trump issued a call to nations around the world to end religious persecution on Monday as he began three days of diplomatic events at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The president made a surprise but brief visit to a UN climate summit before heading off to host an event on religious freedoms.
The majority of his day is due to be spent in a rapid series of bilateral meetings with world leaders.
“Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls on nations of the world to end religious persecution.
“Our rights do not come from government, they come from God,” Trump said, alleging that 80 per cent of the world’s population faced restrictions on religious freedoms.
The president noted that people of all major faiths faced persecution, but much of his speech focused on Christians.
The president has been accused of anti-Muslim bias, particularly over a ban introduced at the start of his term in office on most visas for citizens of several Muslim majority nations.
Vice President Mike Pence introduced Trump and highlighted several countries – all adversaries of the U.S., including Iran, China, Nicaragua and Venezuela – where he said religious freedoms were under attack.
Pence also highlighted the plight of the Yezidis, who were massacred by Islamic State.
He vowed to continue to support Yezidis and other minorities in Iraq.
A U.S. administration official described the religious freedom meeting as “our key event.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres joined Trump for the event, and said that religious freedom is a “pressing global issue,” urging governments to respect the right to express one’s own thoughts, religion and conscience.
The Trump administration has made promoting religious tolerance a major cornerstone of its international diplomacy as part of efforts to appeal to its conservative political base at home.
The government hosted a summit on the subject in Washington back in July.
Before attending the religious freedoms summit, Trump made a brief visit to a climate change summit hosted by the UN, but exited after two speeches.
The U.S. is sending a State Department diplomat as the main representative to the environment summit, which is part of a major UN push to create policy changes to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the effects of climate change, especially in poorer nations.
A key theme of the UN climate summit is youth, focusing on how emissions today will create major problems for generations to come. Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg is a major figure at the UN event.
In the afternoon, the US president will begin a series of bilateral meetings with world leaders.
Over the course of several hours, Trump will meet: Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan; President Andrzej Duda of Poland; New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern; Lee Hsien Loong, the premier of Singapore; Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi; and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
Trump will deliver his main speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.