Near-verbatim Transcript of the Press Conference by Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus

27 Jun 2017

Near-verbatim Transcript of the Press Conference by Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus

GENEVA, 27 June 2017 - Espen Barth Eide: Good morning everybody. It is good to be back. I think many of you will remember that on 12 January, the Conference on Cyprus first convened here in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, and it had its first opening day at political level. The subsequent week, [it held] a successful meeting at deputies’ level in Mont Pelerin, but since then, it has not met because of a series of other events, not in the Conference itself but in the talks in Cyprus. Tomorrow, it is reconvening. It will be meeting in Crans Montana. All the leaders and the Foreign Ministers of the guarantor powers and the representatives of the European Union are flying in today and there will be an opening dinner, and then tomorrow morning the negotiations will start. So this in that sense is the third iteration of the Conference on Cyprus and it reconvenes after several months.

When it first met here in January, it was quite an historic event because for the first time, all the key players in the Cyprus question met together in one place to discuss some of the most difficult issues focussing on security and guarantees and how to develop a shared security vision for Cyprus. It could happen in January because until then the bi-communal talks in Cyprus between the Greek Cypriot Leader, Mr. Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Akinci, had been grown to such a level of maturity that they both felt the time was right for bringing in the other necessary players that are essential to solve this particular chapter.

It was a long road to get back because we had difficult times in the bi-communal talks this spring. We lost several months over a crisis that was not generated inside the talks but that seriously affected the talks, and when the negotiations started again, there were further progress made, but some of the trust had been lost, inter communal and institutionally.

However, at the 17th of May, the two leaders, Anastasiades and Akinci, told each other that they both felt that it was time to try to get together again in the Conference and try to solve all issues, but they were not able at that time to agree on the modalities by which to do so, which reflects different preferences for which issues should be discussed in which order. Then the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, invited them both to New York and we had a working dinner on 4 June; and at that dinner, these issues were sorted out and the two leaders jointly agreed to reconvene, or to request the Secretary-General to reconvene the Conference in June on a date later to be specified. And then in the week following, we reached out to all participants in the Conference and agreed on the opening day to be tomorrow, 28 June.

We will pick up from where we left it in the two former sessions of the Conference. There has been significant exchanges of ideas in the meantime between participants and also between us and the participants. We had tried to develop what was referred to as a common document to guide these talks, and the process towards that was quite an interesting and encouraging one. But as of now, the sides feel that we don’t have a common document, so the Secretary-General - with whom I spoke repeatedly over the last days - decided that we will not present it as a common document. What we will do is to basically start from where the sides left it in the Geneva/Mont Pelerin discussions, but we will also share some of the impressions of the inputs that we have been getting later.

So that’s on the formalities. I also want to say that there is a dinner tonight. The deliberations start tomorrow. We don’t have an end date, because there’s also been agreement that we continue for the time it takes, but for practical purposes, we have said that the current planning period is until 7 July. Whether we will continue after that, or whether we will even conclude before that, we do not know. But that is more for planning purposes. But the principle is that the sides deliberately come here and have stated to each other and to the Secretary-General that they come with the purpose of solving all outstanding issues.

The statement from the meeting with the Secretary-General on 4 June is quite illustrative and I want to use the text that was agreed there. It highlights a couple of things I want to underline here. First, that all agreed that the chapter on security and guarantees is of vital importance to the two communities. Progress in this chapter is an essential element in reaching an overall agreement and in building trust between two communities - the two communities - in relation to their future security. It also says later in the text that the leaders agreed to continue in parallel the bi-communal negotiations in Geneva on all other outstanding issues starting with territory, property, and governance and power sharing. These three chapters, and particularly some few but important issues in these three chapters, were identified by both leaders jointly as those issues in which a strategic agreement need to be found in order to be sure that a settlement is actually possible. There are other outstanding issues, but these were the ones that in the presence of the Secretary-General the leaders pointed out as being those that had a make-or-break nature to them, in addition of course to the very, very essential discussion of security and guarantees.

I also want to say that as you know, and particularly those of you who follow Cyprus closely, I think it is well known that this will not be easy. The starting points of the different delegations is wide apart, and their different perspectives and their different starting points and their different views of what this is all about has been repeated over the last days. This is not unusual. People normally don’t give in on the way to the Conference. If compromises are sought, they have to be made through hard work at the Conference. So a reconfirmation of starting points is not unusual when these conferences happen and the UN is experienced with this.

But at the same time, I very much want to underline that only if everyone, every participant, is ready to show the necessary will, the necessary leadership, the necessary trust in each other, and the necessary creativity and will to think new thoughts. Only and when that happens will we be able to actually find a solution to this critically important issue, which has been dividing the two communities in Cyprus for generations.

So I really hope that when we are in the room, when we are there, when the opening positions have been made, we can see this will to move ahead and to try to find some common vision, which is also what was said in the original statement of 12 January: that they will - again I quote, and this of course is the purpose by which we go into this meeting; and there are a couple of lines, so this was on 12 - the discussions today underscore the participants’ intention to find mutually acceptable solutions on security and guarantees that addresses the concerns of both communities . They recognize that the security of one community cannot come at the expense of the security of the other. They also acknowledge the need to address the traditional security concerns of the two communities, while at the same time, developing a security vision for a future united federal Cyprus. And ladies and gentlemen, this is work in progress, and is hard work. There will be long days, hard work ahead, and make no mistake, it is not going to be easy, there is no guarantee of success.

We, the Secretary-General and I, will do our utmost to help. So will the Security Council which has remained throughout this process very united on this; so will the European Union which is lending extremely important and productive support; so will the international financial institutions which are directly involved in this. But none of us can do it for the participants. It’s their conference and they have to take the responsibility and try to make the best out of what I think is a unique opportunity. It is a unique opportunity because after all these decades of division, it is possible, it is possible to solve - and I really hope that that is the spirit by which everybody goes into this meeting. I think I will leave it at that and open for some questions.

Q: Mr. Eide, it is good to see you in Geneva again. Mr. Akinci, the Cypriot Turkish President, told a press conference yesterday that this Conference will be a decisive conference for the future of the island. Are you feeling the same thing, that this Conference will be a decisive conference for the future of the island?

EBE: Well I think it’s definitely extremely important and we of course hope that it will be decisive in the positive sense: that it will bring us to a comprehensive settlement agreement that can bring the country together. I register that statement. I know many people say similar things, actually on both sides. My preference is to talk about this as the best chance - not to discuss about whether it is a last chance but I think it is the best chance, it is a unique opportunity, and it would be extremely sad if it was wasted, which is, and I think frankly that’s recognized by all participants. Maybe I will add to this, even if it goes beyond your question: that yes indeed, there are different starting points and it’s a long way to go; but every single participant has told me, even over the last weeks, that they would like it to be solved. The Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots would like to reunify their country, that is clear, they have been saying that for years now, and Akinci and Anastasiades have both been elected on pro-settlement platforms. But so has Ankara, so has Athens, so has London, so has Brussels, said that it is in the interest of the wider region that this issue is now laid behind us. So despite having different ambitions for what exactly that means, I think everybody comes there with a view to finding a settlement that can work for all.

Q: You don’t want to call this a last chance, but I mean, we came in January and this was a great opportunity. Nothing happened then to produce a result. You don’t want to call it a last chance, but what are the risks if you don’t make it this time, if you don’t go away, really, with the basis of an agreement?

EBE: Well, first, I mean, we lost more time than we expected. Clearly, let’s be frank about it: when we here in January, we knew there was work ahead, but we of course hoped we would do it much quicker than this. And the fact that we are only coming back in June has to do with developments in Cyprus, which are not directly related to the conference but which made it impossible to continue on the same dynamics and speed as we had hoped. There are definitely risks, but today, the day before opening the conference, I don’t want to emphasize what happens if it fails. I think we’re going in here to succeed. We’re going in here to help the Cypriots to find a settlement, and while there are probably good answers to that question, I will be a little bit careful about speculating too much, because we are here to make our utmost to make it possible for them to succeed in what is their stated goal, which is to reunify their country - and including that, and inside of that, to seek a security vision for a united federal Cyprus that all can live well with. That’s our plan for now and then we might come back later if we something else happens.

Q (in French): En simplifiant, comment se fait-il que beaucoup de cycles de négociations sur la question chypriote ont été organisés, jusqu’à présent, et peu de progrès ont été obtenus ? Monsieur le Conseiller spécial, selon vous quels sont les principaux obstacles qui bloquent le processus de réunification pour Chypre ?

EBE: It’s a very important, very good question. Of course an advantage in Cyprus compared to many other places the UN is involved in trying to seek peace, is that there is no ongoing violence. It’s a tense situation, there are a lot of military, militaries lined up against each other on the two sides, but there is no current violence. I mean there is a sense that life goes on, and while the two leaders repeatedly have said that the current situation is unacceptable and should be changed, of course for many people, there is also the alternative of continuing with life as it is today. So that might in a paradoxical sense also be the problem of these talks, that we don’t have this burning drama of those conflicts where people are killed on a daily basis. But I also know, having worked on this for years now, that many Cypriots are aware that the status quo is not guaranteed. You cannot rest assured that things will never happen, even if they haven’t happened yet. So I think, given regional developments, given global developments, given the opportunity that has arisen from the fact that you have two leaders at the same time who both won on a ‘yes’ to a settlement, ‘yes’ to unification campaign, I think the Cypriots are well advised to try to make the best out of this opportunity anyway.

The specific questions are exactly those I mentioned. Many, most issues are now behind us. There has been a remarkable progress in these talks and it’s widely recognized by the sides and by international observers and observers in Cyprus that no pair of leaders have been further ahead in any previous attempts, including back at the time of the Annan plan. It is also clear that these talks have been Cypriot-owned and are Cypriot-owned and can only be Cypriot-owned, there is no UN arbitration. So a lot has been solved already, but we have an outstanding issue on security and guarantees, which is the main purpose of the international presence of the guarantors; we have issues still in governance, particularly one issue on the nature of the executive; we have a couple of outstanding issues in the property chapter; and despite of the fact that when we were here last [time], the two sides presented maps to each other and largely agreed on the volume of the two future constituent States, there are still some questions in the chapter of territory that has to be solved. This is not me speaking now, this is what the two leaders told the Secretary-General on 4 June, that these are the most critical issue as they see it. That is why it’s in the statement, that’s why also I can make reference to them. These are the issues we have to try to solve in the coming weeks.

Q: A follow-up on the sense of urgency of this round of talks: because then there will be controversial drill of natural gas starting mid-July and then there will be the Presidential election next February. Do you think and do you fear that without any strategic agreement on the main points, the process might be frozen until the end of the Presidential election next February?

EBE: I think I’ll have to answer that as I answered your colleague from the New York Times. That it’s a very good question, and that my preference today, the day before the opening, is to speak about the opportunity for getting to a settlement, not to deep dive into what happens if not. But there are a lot of people out there who are ready to discuss exactly that issue, and it is frequently discussed in Cyprus. Every time I make reflections on that, one side or the other, or both, will be upset, so I will abstain from doing that. But there is an awareness of the fact that there is no time like the present.

Q: You talked about a common document just before. What was the purpose of this document first of all, and why this back and forth now, because you’re not going to come up with this shared document?

EBE: Well, it was of course an extremely… in one sense, it was an ambitious undertaking because we were trying to collect the inputs, both those we already had from the Mont-Pèlerin meeting, and then further inputs from sides that are at this current moment, diametrically opposed. And try not to solve them, but to organize and structure them in such a way as to help the discussions. What I’d simply like to say is, the process was helpful because I think it brought more clarity on more details. But we clearly did not achieve what we can call a common document, because more than one side has expressed that they don’t feel bound by this. They don’t see it as a common document, which is what the Secretary-General and I of course respect. So we will not present it, and I will be very clear, we will not present a common document. A draft was presented last week, people can use it for whatever they like, but it does not have the status of a common document. But don’t underestimate the importance of a process. And in any case, the negotiations will happen here. You don’t negotiate before you negotiate, I mean, that never happens. So the actual negotiations would have to happen here anyway.

And just for the record, I want to point out that despite many claims to the contrary, the UN made no proposals on substance. Nothing. Every statement suggesting otherwise is wrong. We didn’t, and there was also an explicit paragraph saying that none of that had to be taken as a UN proposal, because we agreed with the sides not to do that. So, that’s simply not correct. But the document was an attempt to try and structure a difficult discussion.

I think what we learned here is that, which is quite important to know when you go into this maybe most complex round, is that not only do the sides disagree on what the outcome should be - and I’m not revealing any secrets by saying that the Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish side would prefer the current system of guarantees to remain intact or somewhat modified, whereas the Greek and the Greek Cypriots would like it to go away and be replaced by something completely different, that’s well known. But the two sides, or the many sides rather, are also quite wide apart on what the problem is. So, simplistically put, and here, with all due respect, I’m concentrating a big set of issues; but one side puts more emphasis on the security of community because of a sense of being the smaller community numerically, and the other side puts more emphasis on the security of State.

Some people might argue that both of these concerns are legitimate at the same time, but there are kind of different emphases on where one should start and what relates to what. So I hope that, given that we now have agreed with the participants that there is not a common document, it puts in a sense the onus back on them, on helping us. And I will try to start this already tonight, at the opening dinner which will be a working dinner, - there is no ceremony now, it’s really straight down to work - to see what do we do now, and how do we use the coming days, potentially weeks, most effectively. And I will say there, as I say to you now, that having diverging views is actually quite familiar, that’s normal when you negotiate, if you had the same view, you wouldn’t need to negotiate. But it’s important to respect the other side’s views, and there may be more truths than one. Because my truth may be absolutely true and your truth may be true as well. But what’s true for me is different than what’s true for you, and how can we try to move from that into some common vision, which is exactly what all of them said in that statement from 12 January, which I encourage you to read because it’s actually quite rich, even if it is short, in what the ambition is.

Q: If you had to, could you think of a route to a deal now that doesn’t encroach on the red lines of any of the parties? Can you think, obviously you may not want to spell it out, but do you think it is logically possible, is there a deal that is possible? And also, about the guarantors, I mean you talked about the two sides, but while these talks have been going on, the political balance of power has shifted somewhat. Obviously Mr. Erdogan is feeling quite politically strong, and Britain had a recent election which has left it in a slightly different situation - it has a lot of other things to think about. Are you worried that there could be new demands from Turkey, and perhaps Britain is not ready to make concessions and really engage to the extent that it needs to in these talks?

EBE: On the latter first. I just have to say that Britain has remained very engaged in this discussion. The Foreign Secretary is on his way here to participate tonight, and so is the Minister of State, Alan Duncan, so they are represented by two key politicians, despite the fact that the Queen’s speech is tomorrow. So I think you can hardly question the commitment of the UK. Of course, the world is changing, in countries and around countries, that’s absolutely true. But the commitment is there, as I feel it also from the other participants.

Of course, it comes with my job that I follow closely developments in the key countries, that includes Turkey, as well as Greece and UK, and yes, it has been an interesting spring in Turkey. The referendum is now behind us. I don’t necessarily know if we needed to have that behind us, only history will tell, but I think at this point at least it seems that Turkey is ready to play its part. And I think that’s true for the other participants as well.

To the first question, which is also an excellent question, is it possible to realign those different starting points – my answer to that is, yes, it is. But I also said repeatedly that it’s going to be very difficult and it’s going to be hard work, and it requires will and commitment. I think what we really are looking for is finding out what is most essential for each participant. That has to do with significant change. It also has to do with certain elements of continuity - but continuity of what? Can the regimes be reframed, can they be changed, with something that will serve the key, essential needs? I do think it’s possible. If I didn’t, there would be hardly any purpose in convening tomorrow, so we do, the Secretary-General does, we think it’s possible. But I have to keep repeating that there’s no guarantee of success, because it depends very much on, it basically requires that every single participant is in the room to solve this, and trying to help each other to solve it together. Because, you know, you can fail each on your own but you can only succeed together.

Q: It’s a question on format. For the beginning of the talks, the guarantors will be present, and my question is if they will be present until the questions about guarantees and security will be solved, or the parties will approach their positions. Or if they have a timeline for their participation, and if then, after they leave, they will just continue alone or they could come back to Crans-Montana.

EBE: Thank you for asking, because I’m sure a lot of people are wondering. The way we are organized, we have a conference centre in Crans-Montana, which is organized in such a way that we can do exactly what was said in the 4 June statement, which is that there will be parallel discussions. So, the discussions with the international players, with the guarantors and with the presence of the European Union as an observer, and of course with the Cypriots, with the sides of Cyprus, will happen in one format. And then there will be a continuation of the bi-communal talks happening physically in a separate room or in a separate cluster of rooms in the same conference centre. Separate, but interdependent. Separate, because for some of the participants in the larger meeting, they see themselves as only relevant in those questions which have to do with them, which has to do with treaties or the end of treaties, and security and guarantees. For instance, Greece is very clear on this, and I very much respect and understand that. They have a particular role and they don’t want to be dragged into discussions on governance and territory in Cyprus, because they relate to the international and security dimension of this. At the same time, there are participants like the Cypriots themselves who understand that for them all issues are related.

So the way we solved that conundrum was to have these two processes going on in parallel. So in principle everyone will be there till it’s over. Not necessarily at the highest level. We are, of course, not expecting foreign ministers to stay for weeks in Crans-Montana. But, whenever a foreign minister is not present, then there will be a fully empowered chief negotiator. So every delegation will be there. This is, by the way, perfectly normal. This is the way we are doing it here in the Palais as well, you know, the political level is normally not constantly present, but the country in question is constantly present. And there’s always somebody who is head of the delegation and negotiating on that party’s behalf.

Q: You said in April that there was a formula on security that is the product of consultations with all sides. Will this be discussed in Crans-Montana? And if I could just follow up - two questions, very brief. If the talks are going well, is it possible that the gas drilling off Cyprus that was scheduled for mid-July could be postponed?

EBE: On the latter question, I refer to what I already said. On the first, the Mont-Pelèrin session which was at the level of deputies, people from all sides have told me later that that was quite unique experience. It didn’t solve any problems, let me be clear about that. But, it highlighted, it helped the different participants, I think, to understand why the other participants have the view they have. And they were able to put on the table certain instruments and certain potential solutions that were not mutually exclusive. So we accumulated this. It’s not a formula now. What I had been saying and will say, is a formula might be found. It’s not that it’s found today, but I think it’s within reach, with all the qualifications I keep saying about this being hard and difficult because you are overcoming literally generations of division. So we have a process on something which so far, until 12 January, this was just dealt with, more or less, in declarations. This or that is unacceptable; it has to change. Or this and that shall remain forever. And without actually any particular strategy to do anything about it, apart from registering your discomfort. Now at least there is a process of trying to address the elements of this and that’s what I refer to and I think that remains true.

Q: I was wondering, Sir, if you could give us a bird’s eye view on the security and guarantees. What percentage of the differences that were there in January have been narrowed now in June, and what is the role of the United States in assisting in this process behind the wings, given that the previous administration of Mr. Obama was very active with the Assistant Secretary of State Nuland and also Vice President Joe Biden?

EBE: It’s difficult. Actually, I think I will not try to make a percentage calculation. What I can say is that the discussion has been enriched by more inputs. There’s a deeper understanding, but not necessarily that that means the same as agreement. So it’s again a good question, but difficult to answer, particularly just before the conference starts.

On the U.S., yes, we appreciated the strong support of the Obama administration. But, we also appreciate the strong support of the Trump administration. Vice President Pence has been in touch with both leaders. He met with Anastasiades when he was in Washington and then recently also called Akinci and expressed to both of them the strong support of the administration to this. Likewise, Foreign Secretary Tillerson has been engaged in this issue. And the U.S. with the other permanent members of the Security Council has all been quite active and very constructively active on this file. I was myself in Washington in March, and met with the incoming administration, and I feel that this strong American commitment has continued, from one administration to another. That’s, of course, not a given so it’s something that we should cherish as positive. But, the same thing is true for other P5 members.

Q: I will refer to what Isabel asked on the guarantor powers and how long they’ll be staying. Do you have any indication how long at the ministerial level – will it be one day that they’ll be staying? Do you have any idea?

EBE: Well, I am not the spokesperson of either minister, but the current working hypothesis, which we’ve shared, is that they will stay this week. And then we will see, and maybe we will have certain developments this week, which makes it perfectly logical to let then deputies continue some of these talks. But, as negotiations go, these are dynamic issues. I know that I have planned to stay for some time. We also get, you know, in addition to Boris Johnson, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Nikos Kotzias - the three guarantor ministers - and we have Federica Mogherini coming in tonight. She will take part. And then in addition to Mogherini, High Representative for the Foreign Affairs in the European Union, we will also get the first Vice President Frans Timmermans who will arrive tomorrow and take part. And I know that he is also planning to stay the week as of now. I am saying this with all due respect to the hectic agenda of this people. But, the idea is that this is a political week and then we will see.

Q: I suppose this is just going back to the chances of success, because you said this morning that no two Cypriot leaders had been further ahead. You also said that the two sides were diametrically opposed, so I just wonder how those two statements … Could you clarify?

EBE: I can clarify. There are six chapters in these talks and the last one, the sixth one, is security and guarantees. That’s where the positions are diametrically opposed, or at least traditionally have been diametrically opposed. In the other chapters we’ve seen, you know, in the four chapters on governance and power sharing and property - which has to do with what happens with lost property from 1974 and before - in the chapter of economy and the chapter of EU matters, we are largely done. As I mentioned earlier, a couple of significant outstanding issues, but they are deliberately left outstanding because those are questions of such a nature that they can only be addressed together in some kind of final moment. And then on the territory chapter, which is also extremely emotional and difficult, the two sides made unprecedented progress because for the first time in history the Turkish Cypriot leader and the Greek Cypriot leader exchanged maps here in Geneva, which were both roughly within the same volume when it has to do with what will remain in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state and what will remain in the Greek Cypriot constituent state - which is a significant return of territory from the Turkish Cypriot side to the Greek Cypriot side. So on that chapter there is still an issue of exact drawing of the line. But, the volume is agreed within a difference of [one] per cent that neither side sees very significant.

So, what I’m saying is that on these five chapters we’ve made substantive progress. On the issue that is most complicated right now and very much in focus now, and also why the guarantors and all the others will be present, is the security and guarantees chapter. That’s where the sides are so far opposed. But, they also told each other and the world many times that they are trying to seek a common vision also on that chapter, and that’s what we’re trying to do these days.

Thank you.

Source: UN Office in Geneva