Police cars and roadblocks on Tuesday surrounded Manhattan's posh Warwick hotel, where Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is reportedly staying during the UN General Assembly.
The main entrance was closed and a temporary entrance and exit set up with a metal detector and more than two dozen police officers screening visitors and scanning the street.
An official asked an RFE/RL reporter taking photos on the public sidewalk to move along because the area was secured by "secret service and stuff."
Employees at the hotel's front desk professed no knowledge of whether Ahmadinejad was staying at the hotel, and said there was no one available to comment on his alleged presence.
The Warwick is the object of scrutiny spearheaded by a nonprofit group called United Against Nuclear Iran
(UANI). The group's founders include former U.S. Ambassadors to the UN Mark Wallace and the late Richard Holbrooke, Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross, and former C.I.A. Director Jim Woolsey.
UANI announced on its website on September 20 that it was moving its headquarters into one of The Warwick's rooms for the remainder of the week.
It has also led an online campaign galvanizing people to urge the hotel not to host Ahmadinejad, and launched a mobile billboard which is being driven around Manhattan, making stops at the UN and The Warwick hotel. The billboard has a picture of Ahmadinejad and says: "As we remember 9/11 ten years later, Al-Qaeda's silent partner is coming to New York."
UANI Executive Director David Ibsen denounced Ahmadinejad's visit in a statement earlier this week: "Ahmadinejad is not welcome here. His visit to Manhattan is offensive given Iran's heinous track record and its alliance with Al-Qaeda," he said.
"It's completely irresponsible for them to be accommodating the leader of a criminal regime that is the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism which is killing U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and which is illegally pursuing nuclear weapons," UANI's Nathan Carleton told CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.
The group was not available for comment last night.
Ahmadinejad has been given the cold shoulder, and then some, in New York for years. In 2007, hordes of students protested his speech at Columbia University. In 2009, shortly after his fiercely criticized reelection in June, ABC reported that Ahmadinejad and the Iranian delegation were rejected by three swanky venues after they came under pressure for agreeing to host the ostracized leader. The same year, thousands of Iranians living in the U.S. gathered to rally against the disputed presidential election and the government's brutal crackdown on protesters.
UN delegates have also walked out during Ahmadinejad's last two General Assembly speeches over comments he made concerning 9/11 and Israel.
The Warwick released a statement on September 16 saying it welcomed the UN back into session and pledged to maintain "complete confidentiality with respect to information about its guests."
"The hotel has been privileged to serve a diverse international clientele and host international events during its eight decades of operations. It looks forward to continuing that rich tradition," it added.
-- Courtney Rose Brooks