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On Covering the United Nations General Assembly

epa’s New York Bureau Chief on the annual whirlwind

By Justin Lane

In the General Assembly Hall, I’m wondering aloud if that guy walking through the room isn’t the President of France and hey, isn’t he shaking hands with the Foreign Minister of Germany who just said hello to that prime minister I’m having a hard time immediately identifying? It’s a study of excess – too many leaders to keep careful track of, too many security checkpoints, and too many journalists from around the world who all woke up too early.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) shakes hands with US actor Leonardo DiCaprio (L) during his designation ceremony as the UN Messenger of Peace at the United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 20 September 2014. epa / Jason Szenes

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) shakes hands with US actor Leonardo DiCaprio (L) during his designation ceremony as the UN Messenger of Peace at the United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 20 September 2014. epa / Jason Szenes

Men in a control booth control the feed of Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, speaking during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 25 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

Men in a control booth control the feed of Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran, speaking during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 25 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

The first few days are always a dance of scheduling as we try to determine how to be in all the right places. There are four of us: myself, Andrew Gombert, Jason Szenes and Peter Foley. Four of us to identify and cover leaders from the 193 member countries. It’s like a game, racing to identify the major political players. And of course, it’s an amazing thing to be a small part of an opportunity to share a room with some of the most powerful people in the world.

US President Barack Obama (L) speaks during the general debate of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2014. epa / Peter Foley

US President Barack Obama (L) speaks during the general debate of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2014. epa / Peter Foley

The best part of these events are the small unpredictable moments. Of note to me this week was a Security Council meeting held on Wednesday, chaired by President Obama.

United States President Barack Obama walks off stage after addressing the Climate Summit 2014 at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 23 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

United States President Barack Obama walks off stage after addressing the Climate Summit 2014 at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 23 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

Among those in the relative intimate space were the presidents of France, Chile, Argentina, the Prime Minster of the United Kingdom, and the King of Jordan. At one point in this high-level meeting on worldwide terrorism, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took out a small container of snacks—I think they were nuts—and offered them to her delegation and to a few other leaders, who politely declined. She then left them on her desk. Just one small moment.

I loved it.

Cristina Kirchner (R), the President of Argentina, offers nuts to her delegation during a high-level United Nations Security Council meeting about worldwide terrorism during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

Cristina Kirchner (R), the President of Argentina, offers nuts to her delegation during a high-level United Nations Security Council meeting about worldwide terrorism during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2014. epa / Justin Lane

We need to deliver the expected pictures, the handshakes, the overalls of a world figure leading the hall but it’s the moments like the President of Argentina offering snacks from her purse to Obama that make the early mornings and hectic long days most worth it, when we can humanize the enormity of the event.

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