NEW YORK – Libya’s controversial leader Col. Muammar Gadhafi is walking a diplomatic minefield in advance of a visit to New York City.
The colonel will be heading to New York in late September to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly.
The upcoming visit to the U.S. and U.N. will be the first for the headline-grabbing Libyan leader.
It comes as Gadhafi orchestrated a highly publicized welcome home for Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the convicted bomber of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988. 270 people were killed.
Families of the bombing victims promise “massive protests” in the Big Apple to welcome Gadhafi.
The decision to release Megrahi has also strained relations between London and Washington, as was evident in a vitriolic protest sent by FBI Director Robert Mueller to the Scottish regional government.
So, after years trying to “rehabilitate” his image, Col. Gadhafi has again become radioactive, say diplomats at the U.N.
And so, the upcoming United Nations visit could turn into a diplomatic minefield.
Gadhafi might run into President Obama, literally, in the U.N. General Assembly Hall. Obama is scheduled as the second speaker on Sept. 23; Gadhafi is third.
Ironically, the new General Assembly president is Ali Triki, Libya’s former foreign minister.
Though security officials may do their best to separate the two, that did not work at the G8 summit in Italy last month, when the two briefly shook hands in a controversial photo op.
Even if the two are kept apart in the General Assembly, there is the VIP lunch hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, where security details are normally banned so world leaders can freely mingle.
Gadhafi could approach Obama with little stopping him.
Also at the same lunch will be Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Daniel Ortega and Robert Mugabe, a “Who’s Who” of U.S. bashers.
Obama will have some friends who could attempt to run interference for the U.S. president, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
But, aside from the assembly speech and the VIP lunch, people are wondering where Gadhafi will stay while in New York.
He could set up his infamous “Bedouin tent” in the pedestrian mall at Times Square, but the New York Police Department may have problems with that. So would the local panhandlers and squeegee men.
Central Park might be an option. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg is running for reelection and could face voters’ backlash if the beloved meadow is suddenly closed to the public.
Another alternative could be the roof of the 25-story Libyan U.N. mission on East 48th Street, overlooking the East River.
But occasional high winds could blow Gadhafi’s tent (and all within) off the roof and into the water. This would seem to be the most popular choice among New Yorkers.
Another option could be the private park directly behind the residence of Ban Ki-moon himself.
Located at 3 Sutton Place on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Gadhafi would have a splendid view of the East River and the nearby 59th Street Bridge.
But the park, which is owned by the neighborhood residents must first give their approval.
Finally, the New York Post reports Gadhafi intends to set up his shelter on the front lawn of a home in Englewood, N.J., owned by the Libyan Mission to the United Nations. The suburban location, however, has a large Orthodox Jewish population, including a Jewish day school one block from the Libyan property. The paper indicates news of Gadhafi’s tent going up in Englewood is already alarming local residents.