Near verbatim transcript of press point by USG Feltman & SASG Eide on the Conference on Cyprus

28 Jun 2017

Near verbatim transcript of press point by USG Feltman & SASG Eide on the Conference on Cyprus

CRANS-MONTANA, 28 June 2017 - Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Conference on Cyprus, and Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Cyprus, spoke to journalists at a press point after the opening of the Conference on Cyprus on Wednesday, 28 June in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

JF: Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here today and glad to be here with the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General, Espen Barth Eide. The Secretary-General asked me to come out and represent him today for the opening. He will arrive to the talks later this week, and he asked me to pass on a message to the two leaders and to the guarantor parties that they should seize this opportunity. This is an historic opportunity to solve a problem that has been there for decades. The Secretary-General last met with the leaders on June 4th in New York to prepare for this Conference. In fact it was at that meeting when the two leaders agreed to reconvene the Conference on Cyprus. And what we heard this morning gave us the hope and the conviction that the leaders and the three guarantors have come to this Conference with the determination to overcome the challenges and resolve the issues. I think at this point I will ask the Special Adviser to add his words.

EBE: Thank you Under-Secretary-General Feltman, I want to reiterate that we feel that we had a good opening session with everybody, with the guarantors, with the two sides, and with the European Union as an observer. Mr. Frans Timmermans, the First Vice President of the European Commission, joined us this morning and we had a constructive and good start where we started to address the critical issues that will be the focus of table one, which is the security and guarantees questions, which are those that pertain to all participants of the Conference. And then in half an hour, the second table will start its work. First, the two negotiators will have a planning session, how to structure that second table which will be on the bi-communal issues that are still pending, because as you know, the statement of the Secretary-General after the meeting with the two leaders on the 4th of June made very clear that while security and guarantees is now a particularly essential question, there are outstanding issues in those other chapters as well and we need to have a process that is interdependent and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So these tracks will happen in parallel and that second track will start today and continue. In principle, these two tracks will be constantly active. There may be more emphasis on one and less emphasis on the other, and the other way around, but in principle, they will remain open and this is the way we found a way to deal with everything because all participants yesterday and today made it clear that they came here to Crans-Montana to try to solve the problem. And the Cyprus problem is of course all chapters. So this is the way it is structured. I am encouraged with what I heard so far. As I said in Geneva, hard work will remain, and we make no mistake, we are very much aware of that, but we have a set-up for having larger meetings, smaller meetings, bilateral meetings, meetings in small groups, maybe leaders and ministers only, and we will do what is possible to facilitate. But at the end of the day, of course, it is the responsibility of the Conference participants to go that final mile, to think outside the box, to try out some new ideas so that we finally can go down from this beautiful Swiss mountain with a plan. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Eide, welcome back again. Today you should meet the guarantor powers, but you changed the modality and you are going to meet them separate. Why is that?

EBE: We had that in the programme and then we just agreed that we will do it in three separate sessions because we heard interesting things this morning that we will continue to develop for the afternoon session. And this is the way it goes; once you start such a conference, you used tracks that everybody is together in the most effective way and we jointly agreed that this would be the most effective way.

Q: Just wondering what kind of signal do you see in the fact that the UK, one of the three guarantors, just sent back the two high representatives that were yesterday evening and this morning here. Is there any particular signal that you see in that?

JF: That has to do with UK politics. That has nothing to do with the Conference on Cyprus that we are here. In fact, given the parliamentary votes in London, I think it is admirable that both Secretary Johnson and Minister Alan Duncan were here last night. And they have left able representation here and they are monitoring the situation. We have the full commitment of the UK to work on finding a solution on the Cyprus problem.

EBE: If I just might add that Minister of Europe Duncan will come back as soon as these votes are over. And Foreign Secretary Johnson also said that he, in principle, is aiming at coming back when time permits. But the UK is constantly here. And by the way, we knew this all the time. It is not news for us. I mean, this was clear that today they had these inaugural votes after the Queen’s speech and we fully understand that without them, the Government might not continue, and in politics, people tend to think that that is important.

Q: Mr. Eide, you said yesterday that the four other issues, barring security, were basically done. Does that just mean that we are waiting for the security issue to fall, or could you unpack a little bit more how far along we are in terms of the other four issues being discussed?

EBE: What I said, and what I will repeat now, is that the four first chapters, and I could even add the fifth – territory – much more work has been done than on the security chapter. It doesn’t mean that they are completely done. There are a few but very important issues. There is particularly one issue in the area of governance. There is one more issue of some importance in the territory chapter. And we still have to wrap up the final property deal; even if most of it is there, there are a few issues that are still remaining. And they are not remaining because we did not have time to do it, or that we forgot about them, they are remaining because the leaders chose to put them on the list of those issues they can only deal with at the very end and as part of a broader package. And now I think the sense that we are getting from everyone here is that this is the moment to actually unwrap these issues as well. And because of inter-connected nature, this has to happen in parallel, because you cannot any longer do one chapter and then another one. So in principle while we’re here in Crans-Montana, all issues are open, but in two separated formats, a format with the guarantors and the EU as an observer, plus the sides, on security and guarantees principally, maybe some treaty related issues, and then the second level which is for the sides only, but they will feed each other and inform each other.

Q: I would like to ask did the parties this morning found a common basis for discussion for security and guarantees. And what will be the sequence of the discussion regarding the other chapters and the inter-connection between the chapters. Thank you.

EBE: So as I said, this second track starts now in 22 minutes, and the negotiators will start by answering exactly that question, what will be the sequence of this other track. But there is a hint already in the statement from the Secretary-General on the 4th of June, which highlights territory, property, governance and power sharing, and it is exactly around these issues that I just mentioned. So it is quite clear what will be the early emphasis, and because these are those questions outside of security and guarantees, that the leaders feel have a ‘make or break’ character to them. There are many more issues, but they don’t really, you can’t really say that they will, can break the deal, there is simply work to be done. But these issues are still of a more essential nature. And to your first question Stella - yes, we had a good beginning, we had a good beginning, actually I think beyond what we expected for the beginning. It does not mean that we have concluded, nor did we expect to, but there were ideas put on the table that’s something we will work on tonight, and in the coming days. So largely yes, but we still have to conclude what it exactly means.

Q: Thank you very much. A question for both of you; Mr. Feltman, there are a bunch of other peace processes going on where the UN is involved. Would you agree that the Cyprus peace process, on paper at least, is the easiest, and if you can’t get a deal here, what does it stay for the others? And a question for Mr. Eide, if you do get a deal, are we correct in thinking this will go to a referendum? Would that be in November? Can you tell us what would be the outcome? Thanks.

JF: I don’t think one can really compare from one peace process to another because they’re all so different. In some cases, such as in this one, the UN’s playing a facilitating role, in others the UN is playing more of a supporting role, it’s hard to compare. I was in Colombia last week, for example, where the UN is involved in one specific aspect of the Colombia peace process, and while there are challenges in Colombia, I was there to witness part of the disarmament, the laying down of arms by the FARC rebels, so there’s some progress there. I think that what’s notable about this process is that the two leaders have taken the process further than their predecessors have taken it, that they come up with a remarkably expansive set of convergences between the two sides on the chapters that the Special Adviser was describing. That’s not to underestimate the differences that still have to be overcome. But what I found reassuring this morning was the positive atmosphere and the forward-looking nature of the comments by the two leaders and by the three guarantors who were in the room. There was a sense that whatever disagreements there may be about history, that now is the time to come to an agreement about the future of Cyprus. And that certainly is consistent with the message that Secretary-General António Guterres asked me to deliver to the two leaders, to the three guarantor parties and to the EU as an observer this morning, and I felt that the interventions that each of the others made were consistent with that vision of the Secretary-General.

EBE: Yes, and that’s an easy question to answer. Both leaders envisaged that with the advent of an actual deal between them, they will present it to referenda. There will be two simultaneous referenda happening at the same date, sometime later this year, if a deal comes out of this. But of course, first we will clinch the deal and then we’ll decide when that would happen. But that’s the logic.

Q: What would the UN consider as a success from Crans-Montana?

EBE: Of course, the biggest success would be an actual comprehensive agreement. That’s hard, but not impossible, in the sense that so much has been discussed that you know, if this is really productive and we take our time and we focus on the essentials, it is not beyond reach. It could happen. Short of that, we could have not a framework deal, but a breakthrough on the key issues. A breakthrough that will lead the leaders to tell each other that Cyprus will reunify, there is some more work, we might go back to Cyprus and wrap up certain things that we haven’t had time to do here, but it will happen. I think if we don’t have either of those, I don’t think we can talk of success in Crans-Montana, so this is what we’re working on.

Q: Mr. Eide, you said yesterday in Geneva that this is the “best chance” for finding a solution for the island, this conference. So, do you still think that this is the best chance, after what you saw in the opening session? Also, you said this is not the last chance. What did you mean by that? Are we expecting more talks after Crans-Montana?

EBE: Thank you for asking, because, what happened yesterday, that I was asked by more than one of you whether this was the last chance, and I very deliberately said that I hear a number of people saying that, I prefer to say it’s the best chance. I did not say that it was not the last chance, if you see my point, I just did not say that it was the last chance. There’s a nuance that I think was lost when your excellent articles came to the desk and they shortened it – I think you know the feeling, I know the feeling. So I haven’t said it’s not the last chance but I haven’t said it is the last chance, but I reiterate, it is the best chance. And after this morning, I feel even better about this chance.

Q: I was going to ask you to clear [up] something that was being reported in some media this morning, that there was a crisis in the morning meeting, just to clear that there wasn’t such a thing.

JF: The atmosphere was positive. The interventions were forward-looking. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest. I’ve participated in several of these sessions alongside the Special Adviser, and I thought today’s was the most constructive session in which I’ve participated. And remember, this was Table One. This was about security and guarantees. This was about the issue that’s been least developed and the issue that is probably the most difficult, again, not to underestimate challenges on the others, and yet the atmosphere was positive: the two leaders, the three guarantor powers, shared some creative ideas that we can pursue later in more detail. There was, I’d say, a remarkably positive attitude.

EBE: Definitely no crisis.

Q: Mr. Eide, do you have the full blessing of the Secretary-General, Mr. Guterres, after the withdrawal of the document you tried to implement, that caused some controversy within the Greek Cypriot side and indeed, the Greek side.

JF: You posed the question to the Special Adviser, but I’m going to answer, because I’m here representing the Secretary-General at this opening. The Secretary-General will arrive later in the week to join the conference. The Secretary-General wants me to assure everyone that he is fully behind this process, he is fully behind the work that the Special Adviser and his team have done, and he respects and admires what the two leaders have done in terms of developing the convergences that have occurred so far.

Q: Mr. Eide, you said this is the best chance. What makes you believe this is the best chance, since we’ve had other chances before, and how long are you prepared, and the sides are prepared to stay here to realize this?

EBE: So, both leaders told the Secretary-General, Anastasiades and Akinci both said to the Secretary-General on 4 June that they will go here and stay, and their aim is to find a settlement. So we didn’t define how long that was, but it was clearly understood that we talked about weeks in plural, if necessary. For planning purposes, we have been planning to be here till Friday 7 July. That does not mean neither that we will necessarily leave that afternoon, nor that we will have to stay till that day, but that’s a planning assumption. But the idea is to be here to try to solve the outstanding issues, now that we have everyone together. And all delegations will remain as well. That doesn’t mean that they will always be at the same level, but there will always be a fully empowered negotiator from every delegation that is here until the meeting is over. And that has been cleared and agreed and reiterated by everybody. So we’re in here for the long haul. How much time it takes, time will show.

Q: Given the essence of the document that was proposed to both sides, given the fact that there was over-reaction of both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides, and Turkey and Greece, and given that it was supposed to be the basis of how we moved one step forward – how we discuss security and guarantees; do you believe that those preconditions - wrong word maybe for our Turkish Cypriot colleagues – do you believe that those things that needed to be done and said for the discussion of guarantees have happened on the way here, and have they happened today? Has anything replaced what the document was supposed to do?

EBE: First, I want to link up to the question of the document. The document has not been withdrawn. That’s a wrong expression. We simply concluded that it’s not common. We presented it, it exists, it’s not common. So we are not using it as a common platform. That’s a wrong expression. [The Special Adviser later clarified that the document was not a common document and therefore was not and will not be tabled at the Conference on Cyprus. However, the positions that were captured in the document from Monte Pelèrin III in January and the ideas that had informed the drafting of the document in consultation with all parties, remained available to inform the positions of the sides.]. We simply concluded that it’s not common. We presented it, it exists, it’s not common. So we are not using it as a common platform. 

That’s actually not a problem, we realize now, because in the interventions that we already have heard, we basically heard the same elements again. Because, remember, this document was not invented by us. It was a compilation of input and elaboration of input that we got from all sides, the same sides, the same people, and they have been discussing most of those issues anyway, but as their own inputs to the talks. So I think, as I said yesterday, and I can say that with even more confidence today, what mattered was the process towards, you know, collecting these ideas. The fact that we don’t formally talk about a common document is not an issue because in reality that started the thinking and we could see today that that thinking continues in a positive sense. As the Under-Secretary-General Feltman said, we heard five opening interventions, from the sides, from the guarantors and an exchange around these issues, which basically encapsulates what are the issues to be discussed. And what we’re going to do this afternoon and maybe tomorrow is to continue to deep dive into what these different elements are, and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that it’s not shockingly different from what was in this document. But, the document as a document is not seen as a common document, which is fine. And you were right; basically everybody felt that it was leading too much in the direction of the opposite side, which is not completely unfamiliar in the Cyprus talks.

Source: UN Office in Geneva