This much is agreed: On Friday at the UN, as all eyes were on the Palestinian president’s speech asking for statehood recognition, UN guards and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail were in the hallway in a shoving match.
It is still not clear exactly what turned an apparent disagreement over security rules into a physical confrontation. Cellphones and hallway conversations at the UN headquarters in New York were still buzzing about the incident on Monday, three days later, but officials on all sides shied away from reporters when asked for details.
When asked about the fight at his daily noon briefing, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky referred to “unfortunate misunderstandings.”
He said “necessary action has been taken to prevent such misunderstandings and that the issue had been “satisfactorily resolved.”
He wouldn’t respond to reports that Ban apologized to Erdogan, but said the two met. UN security officers referred all questions back to Nesirky’s office.
Back at their offices across First Avenue, the Turkish delegation also declined to discuss the fight. Press official Yesim Sertkan said her office was waiting for a reply from the delegation’s own ambassador.
That leaves just glimpses of the altercation, its build-up and fallout from various diplomats and officials around the opening session of the UN General Assembly, all of whom spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because the matter is diplomatically sensitive.
Several officials said that Erdogan was late for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech and that his guards were trying to rush him through a cordoned-off exit. (An account in the foreign policy blog Turtle Bay said the door did not actually lead into the General Assembly hall.)
The ensuing fight was described as heated and “serious,” with pushing and shoving lasting for several minutes and even spilling down the stairs onto another floor.
One UN guard was reportedly hospitalized afterward with bruised ribs.
The tumult caused a security alert that led to diplomats outside the General Assembly hall being ordered out of UN headquarters to wait in a steady rainstorm until the situation was under control.
The sources say that initially as many as nine UN security guards were suspended, but after a protest, they were called back to work and placed on administrative duty, out of uniform and off the beat as the matter is investigated. It was not immediately known if the Turkish security guards have been similarly reassigned or punished.
One diplomat said he witnessed Turkish security officials being involved in another incident during a high-level meeting at the UN on Libya on Sept. 19.
The diplomat said a Turkish security member went under the rope in a cordoned-off corridor as US President Barack Obama was about to arrive and was confronted by UN security guards. There was some pushing and shoving until Turkey’s UN ambassador stepped in and calmed the situation, the diplomat said.