United Nations

The security, at least, was impressive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2005, 12:00am

They love Tony Blair in New York. And his tub-thumping anti-terror speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly meeting would probably have made him even more popular in the city.

That is, if anyone had actually made it into the building in time to hear it. It took at least two hours for irate journalists to get through security.

The UN building is now so secure that working there is a bit like trying to check into eight different flights, all at the same time: once you've stood in line for over 90 minutes; made it past the sniffer dogs; emptied your pockets; gone through the metal detectors; set the metal detectors off; removed your shoes and belt; gone back through the metal detectors again; and submitted your bag and laptop to a final search, you then have a five-minute walk along the top of the East River wall towards the UN building.

On the rooftops lurk armed officers. Armed patrol boats bob menacingly - if such a thing is possible - in the water, and waspish choppers circle overhead. You begin to feel as if you are, in fact, trying to smuggle something into the building.

At the very least, it makes you ask how it could be done. By sky-diving, perhaps?

Finally, when you get inside and want to get to a conference room or to the General Assembly Room, you have to re-empty your pockets and go through that trauma again.

In short, it's not a particularly fun place to work. And that lack of fun percolates through the surrounding streets. For most New Yorkers, this high-profile event is only really visible in the motorcades that scream through town and the fact that you can't get a taxi for blood or money.

Traffic on the east side of Manhattan is getting stopped hundreds of times daily as Secret Service SUVs, howling motorcycle escorts and limousines scream past.

To witness it in all its urgency and drama, however, is simply awesome. The summit itself might now be wracked with a sense of depression at the weakness of the draft reform agreement, and Mr Blair may have been disappointed that the wider UN General Assembly failed to agree on his call for a clear definition of terrorism. But in terms of providing a security operation as keen as the terrorists are psychotic, New York has certainly delivered.