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Culture clash: the U.N. vs. 'The Donald'

Gary Tuchman

By Gary Tuchman
CNN Correspondent

December 11, 1998
Web posted at: 7:32 a.m. EST (1232 GMT)

In this story:

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The United Nations always has a lot on its plate. Wars. Hunger. Refugees. People such as Saddam Hussein. Bill Clinton. Donald Trump.

Donald Trump? As in, "The Donald"?

Well, yes. Add the corner of 47th Street and First Avenue in New York City to the list of places around the globe that are problem areas for the United Nations.

It may not exactly be a weapons-inspections dispute, but a building being constructed by the brash developer is definitely considered trouble by some senior people at U.N. Headquarters.

Competing spheres of influence

trump signtrump sign
Trump's banner competes for attention with the flags at the U.N.   

New York is a city of skyscrapers. No city in the United States comes anywhere close to the number of tall buildings that hold sway in the Big Apple.

But in the United Nations' neck of the woods, on Manhattan's East Side, the tallest building around is the 38-story U.N. Secretariat. And that is just the way many at the United Nations and in the neighborhood like it.

That's why it ruffled more than a few feathers when the city of New York granted Trump permission to construct the world's tallest all-residential building there.

When the Trump World Tower reaches completion, scheduled in about two years, it will be 90 stories tall, dwarfing the landmark U.N. building across the street.

It's very rare for top U.N. diplomats to get involved with local New York City building approval issues.

But U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has acknowledged talking with New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani about the project. (It happened relatively behind the scenes, during a night at the opera.)

Another high-level U.N. official, who prefers to remain unidentified, says the possibility of legal action against Donald Trump is being studied, despite the fact the project has been approved and construction is under way.

'Trumping' a global organization

U.N. complex
The U.N. currently dominates its corner of Manhattan  

Certainly, not everybody at the United Nations is upset about the project. Many U.N. employees say there is nothing wrong with trying to make the U.N. neighborhood more vibrant.

But those who oppose the Trump project say there are a number of problems with it.

While "there are a lot of tall buildings in New York, this area has traffic that is very serious," notes the deputy Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Shen Guofang, and a 90-story building can only make it worse.

And the high-level U.N. source who talked about the possible legal action told us that having a building like Trump's towering over the United Nations could cause security problems for the ambassadors and world leaders who come to the United Nations every day.

Then, there's the matter of aesthetics and, simply put, what's fitting.

"In my mind," says Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymr Yel'chenko, "it will not fit here because it overshadows the United Nations complex."

Trump diplomacy, a k a pragmatics

Donald Trump, with a string of high-profile projects and a couple of high-profile divorces to his name, is no stranger to controversy.

For him, emphasizing the positive is the name of the game.

"The height of the Trump World Tower is what makes it unique, and ultimately the height is what will make it a great city landmark," he offers.

And Trump, who would never be considered a low-key promoter, says his 90-story namesake will be "one of the most luxurious residential buildings in the world."

One-bedroom units will begin at $440,000, and prices rise from there to the most expensive penthouse, which will go on the market for a cool $10 million.

So what does Trump have to say about the controversy? In the spirit of diplomacy, he says he likes the United Nations and the work it does.

And regarding his U.N. critics? Trump thinks a lot of them "will end up living in the building."

Even some of his critics don't disagree with that. Fancy surroundings and a quick walk to work might be too hard to pass up for those who can afford it.

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