- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

On the inside

Covering the annual U.N. General Assembly debate in New York last week was a bit like being adrift on the ocean in a small boat — surrounded by water but unable to drink — says our U.N. correspondent Betsy Pisik.

An estimated 80 heads of state and government and a similar number of foreign ministers were shuttling in and out of the U.N. headquarters on First Avenue to address the assembly at various points during the week. But the security was so tight that it was seldom possible for reporters to talk to them.

Even the regular press seating in the General Assembly chamber was closed for the first few days of the session, with security especially tight on Tuesday when President Bush was in the building.

Areas of the building that the national leaders frequented also were closed, reducing the reporters to watching the proceedings on closed-circuit television from their offices on the third floor of the building.

Their only personal contact with the presidents and prime ministers came in a press briefing room, where a series of press conferences was scheduled, sometimes back-to-back. The presidents of Cyprus, Venezuela, Pakistan and Bolivia briefed in quick succession on Wednesday, even as other leaders spoke in the main chamber where the speeches ran for 10 hours a day.

The world leaders also had to accommodate themselves to the crush of international celebrities, forgoing some of their usual perquisites and luxuries when they wanted to meet one-on-one for so-called “bilaterals.”

Some were able to settle into the beige leather armchairs and sofas in the elegant Indonesian Lounge, but others wanting more privacy were directed to the visitors’ entrance area, where a number of makeshift cubicles had been put together with folding chairs and curtains.

Outside the building, there was the constant coming and going of motorcades, carrying leaders from their hotels to the U.N. building and back again.

Some motorcades were as small as two rented Lincoln Town Cars with a police escort, while others seemed to stretch for more than a block, with limousines or black SUVs bristling with antennas and police motorcycles. Former President Bill Clinton’s motorcade also included an ambulance.

On the outside

Between the closed streets and security checks, there was no easy way to get back and forth between the U.N. headquarters and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at Park Avenue and 49th Street, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had set up shop for the duration.

That meant any American press organization committed to seriously covering the summit needed at least two reporters in New York, one to cover the events inside the U.N. building and one to work the outside. Wire agencies needed several additional reporters to allow for competing press conferences at various hotels.

Our State Department correspondent Nicholas Kralev checked into a hotel close to the Waldorf, booking his room early to avoid the $750-a-night rates that some of his colleagues paid. The State Department itself took over several dozen rooms and suites in the hotel.

On the 24th floor, the department had established a press room where it offered briefings to a select group of reporters as often as five times a day; notice was provided by e-mail and text message, often with as little as 30 minutes’ warning.

Access was restricted to invited reporters mainly because of the limited space in the briefing room, Mr. Kralev said. That meant the regular corps of about two dozen reporters and cameramen who travel regularly with Miss Rice.

Any sort of movement outside the hotel required the reporters to allow time for navigating several layers of security, leaving little opportunity for meals. Mr. Kralev said he dealt with that by stocking in a large supply of protein bars to get him through the week.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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