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New Yorkers to General Assembly, Ahmadinejad: 'Oh, no'

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2009-09-22

New Yorkers may not like it, but they put up with the disruptions during the annual UN General Assembly. This time, however, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in town, some hotels are just saying "no".

The annual UN General Assembly jamboree that New Yorkers love to hate is back in town.
Residents of the Big Apple are a hard-bitten bunch and they do not take well to the traffic and security nightmares when more than 150 world leaders – along with their retinues of ministers, first ladies and advisers – descend on a densely packed 23-square-mile sliver of land called Manhattan.
Many New Yorkers grumble that they'd be happy to put up with the inconveniences – and foot the security bills – if they believed something would actually come out of the General Assembly meeting. Mostly, they don't.
The feeling is so pervasive that even US Secretary of State – and former New York senator – Hillary Clinton addressed the widespread cynicism ahead of Wednesday’s event. “As President Obama leads our US delegation at this year’s General Assembly, I hope we can demonstrate that the United Nations does not have to be just a diplomatic talk-shop on First Avenue,” she said, referring to UN headquarters, which lies along the East River on Manhattan’s First Avenue.
Seeking a temporary tent for Gaddafi
Adding to the drama is the hoopla of a rogue’s gallery of world leaders traipsing around the area. This year, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi requested permission to pitch his trademark Bedouin tent in Central Park. That was turned down.
The Libyan mission then tried the gardens of a Libyan-owned mansion in the New Jersey suburb of Englewood. But following the controversy surrounding Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi’s release from a British jail and hero’s welcome back home, that plan had to be scrapped after a local, very vocal, uprising.
Gaddafi is now staying at the Libyan mission on East 48th Street between First and Second Avenues, according to news reports. The office building does not have a garden, making it unlikely that Gaddafi will get his way or his tent this time.
An online campaign targeting city hotels
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fared better – but only marginally. Last year, Ahmadinejad sparked a ruckus at a Columbia University event when the Iranian president denied the presence of homosexuals in Iran.
This year, following a concerted campaign by a New York-based non-profit organisation, some city hotels are just saying no to Ahmadinejad.
Earlier this year, UANI (United Against Nuclear Iran) launched an online campaign targeting New York hotels hosting banquets and events featuring the Iranian delegation.
An influential group -- whose advisory board members include Karen Hughes, a former advisor to President George W. Bush, and former CIA director, James Woolsey – UANI posted online petitions calling on supporters to click on an “action alert” urging specific establishments to “re-evaluate” their decision to host or accommodate Ahmadinejad and the Iranian delegation during the General Assembly meeting.
No room at some inns for Ahmadinejad
Their track record so far has been impressive. The New York Helmsley Hotel cancelled a banquet scheduled for Thursday that was to feature the Iranian leader. Gotham Hall, a banquet facility, followed suit, scrapping a Friday event after receiving emails from UANI supporters.
“We are very happy that the Helmsley Hotel and Gotham Hall reversed their decisions to host banquets that would feature President Ahmadinejad or the Iranian mission,” said UANI spokeswoman Kimmie Lipscomb in a phone interview with FRANCE 24. “We’re glad the Helmsley Hotel and Gotham Hall join us and the international community in refusing to prop up a dictatorship that is building illegal weapons and disregarding human rights.”
Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June 12 presidential election has been contested by his main challengers. Earlier this week, the New York-based Human Rights Group called on the General Assembly to appoint a special UN envoy to investigate post-election abuses in Iran.
A day before the General Assembly opening, UANI’s target list of hotels had dwindled to two: The Intercontinental The Barclay and Essex House. The Intercontinental has refused to respond to media reports that the Iranian president is staying at the premises during the General Assembly meeting, citing company policy not to divulge the names of hotel guests.
When asked if UANI’s current campaign contravenes Obama’s stated policy of engagement with Iran and runs contrary to plain old diplomatic decency, Lipscomb maintained that the group supports the UN’s role as “a platform to engage about issues”. The group’s main beef, she maintained, was with private companies doing business with the Iranian regime – in this case, hosting the president.
“In terms of lodgings, we would call on the Iranian mission to the United Nations to host Ahmadinejad,” said Lipscomb.
But in a phone interview with FRANCE 24, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the UN in New York dismissed UANI’s latest campaign.
“It’s a very normal campaign,” said the spokesman, who refused to divulge his name. “It’s been 30 years since the Islamic revolution and there are groups in Paris and in New York who do these kinds of things. They are monarchists ignoring the human rights violations of the former monarch,” he said, referring to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was ousted by the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  “We have no problems with regards to finding venues for President Ahmadinejad’s scheduled events.”
He however refused to divulge details of the alternate venues. But if their track record is anything to go by, UANI is likely to find out and a new online campaign would soon be in the works. 


Date created : 2009-09-22