The burden of policing the globe’s largest gathering of politicians, officials and activists is an annual ordeal for the city of New York
New York prepares for security 'Superbowl' ahead of UN General Assembly
Mysterious antennae have been placed among the plane trees outside UN headquarters. Vans with surveillance cameras are parked along the road. Guards at the UN building turn away sightseers warning the institution is “closed”.
The burden of policing the globe’s largest gathering of politicians, officials and activists is an annual ordeal for the city of New York. A grid of street closures, checkpoints on corners, disruption from motorcades and the heightened state of alert are part of the fabric of the city. “Please consider alternate routes of travel and and the use of public transportation is strongly encouraged,” warned Inspector Cliff McPherson, the commander of the 19th district.
The 35,000 sworn officers of the New York police department are the front line force protecting the conference. Their numbers are bolstered by state forces and federal secret services. The terror attack in London has not triggered a rise in the threat warning level to the meeting. The UN has its own security, which guards the East River headquarters site.
“It is the finest time in the year for UN security as we all work together to get the job done,” Matthew Sullivan, head of the UN’s security division, said. “This is our World Series, World Cup, Superbowl all in one week. Who’s coming, what’s the threat, every general assembly, all the events. Every general meeting is different in nature, different in time. We’re planning very much.”
The unique aspect of the 2017 summit is that president Donald Trump will operate from his own home as he hosts the assembly.
Mr Trump was due to arrive in the eponymous Trump Tower in mid-afternoon on Sunday. The building already has a permanent armed police and other measures that have, according to an online clock, cost New York US$12.9 million (Dh47.4m) since the inauguration.
Several anti-Trump protests are expected including a march on Monday against "white supremacy" and another on Tuesday, which will also target Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The president will shuttle between his penthouse and the Lotte Palace Hotel a few blocks away. Either there or within the UN complex, Mr Trump will meet with the leaders of Jordan, Palestine, Britain, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan and Ukraine.
A relatively small US delegation will be based at the Lotte Palace for the duration of the summitry. A cost cutting drive by Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has whittled down the size of the US team travelling to New York. At one point as few as 80 US officials were asked to go to the meetings, down from more than 270 last year. A final figure is expected to be just 140, drawing some concerns over US leadership. “These cuts are needlessly stupid,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a state department official under President George W Bush. “So much of what diplomacy is about is building and maintaining relationships.”
It is all a far cry from the heyday of US diplomacy when the American outpost was the Waldorf Astoria. The legendary hotel, an art deco gem, is covered in scaffolding. An internet search for the hotel name now brings up a property in Chengdu in China. It is appropriate since the original New York site was bought by the Chinese insurance firm Anbang in 2014. It is now being converted into apartments.
Anbang was among the most prominent of Chinese investors that went on a buying binge across the globe. Its rise was fuelled by soaring sales of inventive insurance policies. Its $1.95 billion acquisition of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in 2014 catapulted it into the public eye. Wu Xiaohui, its trailblazing chairman, has been detained since June. Meanwhile the firm’s product offerings that fuelled its growth have been all but banned by regulators.
Work at the building site appeared to be unaffected by the Chinese woes with one departing worker claiming he was more worried about Sunday’s English Premier League Everton game against Manchester United. “I’ve got $20 American on it,” he exclaimed as he dashed into the crowd.
The Waldorf Astoria's Moroccan bell captain served as the hotel’s greeter for presidents, monarchs and city visitors for five decades. He reflected on the closure earlier this year. Jalali Elidrissi said the hotel was irreplaceable and its memories lived with him. "I get to meet so many dignitaries," he told CNN. "I'm still there but I'm not there."