- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

NEW YORK A city calling itself the Millennium Capital of the World might be expected to open its arms to 170 world leaders attending a Millennium Summit. But promising a week of epic gridlock and sharpshooters on rooftops is not the way to win the hearts of New Yorkers.
Starting Wednesday, the United Nations is hosting what it plausibly calls the largest gathering of world leaders in human history.
Each of those kings, presidents and prime ministers will be accompanied by wives and retainers, all needing a place to sleep. They will want to hold meetings and receptions. They will commute to and from the United Nations usually in large motorcades. They will do a little shopping.
All of which means a four-day traffic jam that will shut down midtown Manhattan more surely than Godzilla and King Kong combined.
From tomorrow through Friday evening, streets running through the midtown East Side will be closed to traffic, and often to pedestrians as well. The streets that are open are likely to be choked by 170 motorcades, some of them a dozen sedans long.
City Hall says it will spend as much as $10 million on security but is showing little enthusiasm for it.
The leaders "will get protected better than any place else in the world, but as far as I am concerned, some of them I think are despicable, horrible human beings," Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told reporters last week. "You should always make that point every time you get a chance to make that point," he added.
It was Mr. Giuliani who, at the last such gathering of world leaders five years ago, had Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat expelled from the Lincoln Center in the middle of a special concert for the visiting dignitaries.
Having learned something from that earlier summit, New York officials are begging locals to avoid a "diplo-zone" from 35th to 47th streets between Third Avenue and the East River. Portions of FDR Drive a lifeline for commuters that runs the length of Manhattan and connects to bridges to Queens and Brooklyn will be shut down sporadically and without notice.
Transit police caution drivers that streets surrounding two dozen hotels and diplomatic residences and missions will also be subject to closures, as will a milelong stretch of Fifth Avenue bordered by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and scores of diplomatic residences.
To add insult to inconvenience, New Yorkers will find black-clad sharpshooters watching them from the skyline.
"I am always proud to see my prime minister come to such a gathering," said one taxi driver, a native of India. "But I do not wish to be here during it."
The United Nations is trying to show its sympathy for "the good people of New York."
"We know their patience will be tried in the course of the summit week, but we would like to invite them to be patient and to reassure them that this is really for a good cause," said Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette.
After years of escalating security concerns during the high-profile annual opening of the General Assembly, U.N. officials are aware that they have as much to fear from irate Manhattanites as they do from international terrorists.
In an effort to salve commuters' frustrations, the organization has spent $115,000 on posters in subways and bus shelters promising that the summit participants will reduce or reverse poverty, AIDS and global warming. There is even a 30-second television spot narrated by Harry Belefonte to showcase the organization's work around the world.
But reducing slums and HIV transmission are abstract goals to a Type-A New Yorker who really, really has to get to a meeting in midtown, or an exhausted commuter who just wants to go home.
These people may not care that the FDR Drive runs directly beside the Trusteeship Council chambers, where 170 presidents and prime ministers will be posing for a group snapshot.
Coordinating the movements of so much precious cargo has for months been a full-time job for the staff in the U.N. protocol and security offices, not to mention their counterparts in the U.S. Secret Service and New York Police Department.
The protocol department has refined to an art the pronunciation of foreign names and the arcana of diplomatic seniority. They have already determined that the specially built platform will be both large enough and sturdy enough to accommodate 170 sometimes overweight leaders when they pose for their group photograph.
The United Nations itself is reluctant to discuss security details, but the precautions are evident.
The complex has been closed to tour groups since Aug. 28, and the ground floor of the Secretariat building is swarming with uniformed and plainclothes police.
Steps have been taken to protect arriving motorcades as well. Heads of state will be discharged behind a blind that is designed to foil any snipers lurking inside the skyscrapers on First Avenue.
But none of this is foolproof, admitted one security guard who asked not to be identified.
"Anyone who wants someone dead that badly won't be deterred because he hasn't got a clear shot," said the guard, who admitted he has long felt very vulnerable working at the Delegates' Entrance.

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