Diplomatic disconnect at U.N. leads to security face-off, sources say

Story highlights

  • Turkish security personnel and U.N. guards reportedly faced off last Friday
  • Sources say the Turkish group was trying to enter the General Assembly hall the wrong way
  • U.N. guards stopped the delegation and a confrontation ensued
  • The U.N. secretary-general quickly apologized to the Turkish mission
There's a buzz at the United Nations as the high-level General Assembly session concludes, but the chatter is not about the Palestinian request for statehood or the Iranian president's latest conspiracy theories.
The buzz is over an incident inside the U.N. headquarters, often called the "house of peace," on Friday that pitted security personnel protecting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan against U.N. in-house security guards.
The incident left U.N. guards roughed up and finger-pointing afterward, and prompted the U.N. secretary-general to quickly go to the Turkish diplomatic mission to apologize.
Details of what exactly happened remain murky. Conversations with each side and with other journalists indicate the Turkish prime minister wanted to enter the General Assembly hall on Friday to hear Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announce his historic statehood application to the entire U.N. organization. Erdogan and his delegation, having completed a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, tried to use the nearest entrance to the assembly hall. However the Turkish entourage was on the fourth floor -- location of the visitors' gallery, with no access cleared to the floor where representatives of 193 nations sit.
A confrontation ensued, with U.N. security personnel not permitting the Turkish delegation to enter. The Turkish prime minister was physically "touched" at one point, says one source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Some U.N. guards reportedly required treatment at a hospital -- the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that one was hospitalized with bruised ribs.
A Turkish official told CNN, "Our prime minister was not treated the way any prime minister should have been." The official said there was "misbehavior" on the part of the U.N. guards.
Video posted on the New York Post website shows personnel from the two sides in a discussion but does not depict any physical scuffle though that may have taken place before or after the photographer and camera are forced back from the scene by other guards. A CNN photo-journalist was inside the assembly hall at the time of the incident and panned up to see some sort of disturbance at the rear of the hall and off to the side. Some in the audience are shown turning to look up toward the disturbance.
U.N. officials are not saying much about the incident, declining to even publicly confirm that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologized to Turkish representatives, deferring comment at least until internal investigations can determine the exact facts of the incident.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Monday that "there were some unfortunate misunderstandings involving security between U.N. uniformed officials and security officials of member delegations." The spokesman for the secretary-general added that the misunderstandings have been resolved, and that prompt action was taken, but he did not elaborate.
Some U.N. guards reportedly are not pleased that their boss, the secretary-general apologized.
One diplomat said the guards failed to explain to the Turkish entourage that access to the General Assembly floor was not possible through that doorway. The timing and nature of the Palestinian speech may have caused a lack of patience on the part of the Turkish delegation.
U.N. spokesman Nesirky said, "Necessary action is being taken to prevent such misunderstandings in the future."