Renovation may leave UN without a home

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Indy Politics

Critics of the United Nations would probably not mind seeing its headquarters, primarily designed by the guru of the International Style, Le Corbusier, razed to the ground. That will not happen. However, the elegant slab of concrete and glass on New York's East River does have to be vacated soon.

Critics of the United Nations would probably not mind seeing its headquarters, primarily designed by the guru of the International Style, Le Corbusier, razed to the ground. That will not happen. However, the elegant slab of concrete and glass on New York's East River does have to be vacated soon.

A six-year renovation of the entire 52-year-old UN campus, extending not just to the 38-storey tower but also all the associated buildings around it, is due to get under way in 2007. There is no ducking the work, because the place is not just dilapidated but in some respects quite dangerous. The roofs leak, carcinogenic asbestos is everywhere and there is no fire sprinkler system.

But there is a problem. The organisation that worries so much about providing shelter to refugees around the world may soon be in need of the same kind of assistance itself. In two years, it may be homeless. Plans to build a new tower on an empty lot on 42nd Street have fallen foul of state politicians who, disgusted by recent scandals, have baulked at providing the necessary authorisation.

Yesterday, Kofi Annan, the secretary general, spoke to staff members about the impact of the scandals on morale. "I know it has cast a shadow over all of us and you have no idea what a personal pain it has been for me as secretary general and as a father having to deal with this situation," he said, alluding to the involvement of his son, Kojo, in the ongoing oil-for-food corruption inquiry.

Washington, for all its grumpiness with the UN, has made clear it wants it to stay on US soil. It brings money and tourists to New York and, of course, is a trove of intelligence for American spies.

So it is that the secretariat has hired estate agents urgently to find the body, and its more than 5,000 employees, temporary digs. It would prefer a building somewhere close by in Midtown Manhattan but has agreed to be flexible.

Brooklyn and Queens are possibilities and so is Governor's Island, in the East River itself, recently vacated by the US Coast Guard.

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