“A watershed moment for the Cyprus negotiations” – press conference by Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus,

Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary-General briefs the press, Palais des Nations, Geneva. 13 January 2017. UN Photo / Violaine Martin

Geneva, 13 January 2017  – Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Cyprus: Good afternoon, good to see you all again.  The last days have been a watershed moment for the Cyprus negotiations.  As we said two days ago, on Wednesday, for the first time in history, the two sides in Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders, presented their preferred maps of the internal administrative border to each other.  That has never ever happened before and it was quite an important moment, both in itself, but also because it was seen by both sides as the sign that this thing is moving towards the end game.  The day after, yesterday, we convened the Conference on Cyprus, with the Cypriots, together with the three guarantor powers as the participants, and in the presence of the European Union as an observer, with the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, also in the room.  We had a very good series of opening statements that I listened to very carefully.  They all conveyed a strong message of hope that this long-standing dispute can now finally be laid to rest and a united federal Cyprus can emerge and can be embraced in a security arrangement that is mutually acceptable for all sides, hence the involvement of the guarantor powers, but also hence the role of the European Union to which a united Cyprus will belong.  This was the common message in the opening statements.  We moved from there to a working lunch where we went more into the actual substance of the issues.  It was a good exchange, it was an open and frank exchange, and it was an exchange that confirmed to us all two things:  first that there are difficult issues to overcome, but secondly that there is a will to overcome them from all the participants and all the people present at that lunch.  From then on, we went to have another first, a third historic first in a row, which was the first time that the three guarantor powers met with the Secretary-General in this process, first together to discuss the issues of how to organize their involvement in this conference as it goes along, but also after that in a series of bilateral meetings with all of them.  Then we reconvened in the afternoon and the evening session.

The outcome that you will have seen is that the conference continues.  The next event in this conference is a meeting that will take place next Wednesday, where senior civil servants will come together from the same parties to start working on specific ideas, specific possible options, possible proposals, not to negotiate but to prepare the ground for a structured final discussion between the principals at the very high political level, which will take place later.  We deliberately do not have a date, but it is going to be soon.  The agreement among everybody is that we are talking about not a very long time, and maybe even in the course of this month, but this is not finally decided because we have to see how this next round goes.  It is important for me to convey that the conference convened successfully, it continues as is normal in these conferences and we do many of them in the United Nations.  They started, with the presence of high political level participants, it continues by civil servants, and it will then again be set at probably even higher political level when the time is right, either for sealing an agreement or when you need the involvement of the highest decision makers to actually craft an agreement based on a series of concrete ideas which at that time will be on paper.  I would like to say a few words on what the discussion is all about because I think that is crucial.  Of course I am not going to say what the position of any side is, but it is important to understand that the Cyprus talks in general have six chapters, five of them pertain to the Cypriots only and are negotiated in Cyprus between the leaders, between Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci.  We are close to conclusion, but we haven’t completely concluded here because there are issues in those five chapters that can only be finally closed when we know what is happening also on the sixth chapter, which is security and guarantees.

The security and guarantees chapter is in its nature an issue that relates to outside powers.  This is a legacy of the 1963 peace, by which Cyprus was originally created, and it is impossible to either change, abolish or continue – well you can continue but you cannot do anything else – if you don’t have the consent of the guarantor powers, and as I mentioned because the EU, as an observer, will be important also in this aspect, particularly after the Lisbon Treaty.  So that is why this chapter is somewhat different than the others.  The Conference on Cyprus is now continuing and when the guarantor powers are involved, the topic is on security and guarantees, because the guarantor powers neither should nor want to be involved in the issues that are not related to them.  But in parallel, the two sides will continue to close outstanding issues because of the interdependent nature of the issues.  Under the roof of the Conference on Cyprus we had both phenomena going on in parallel, and that is the way it should be.  We are happy where we are now.  We have this group established.  We have had initial exchanges, because they were all here with the people who will populate this senior civil servants group, and we are talking about very high officials from Foreign Ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office and similar, in addition of course to the sides and ourselves from the UN.  What they are doing now as they fly home, or for that sake continue here, is that they are now preparing themselves for what will happen starting Wednesday – the session of the Conference on Cyprus – will try to be much more specific on the issues.

The reason I am underlying in some detail this inter-relationship is because it is important to understand that security is about many things.  The sense of security that Cypriots, be they Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots need to feel, is not only related to issues of a military nature.  The first line of defense, in many ways, in my view based on the inputs we have been having over the last day: the first level is the deal itself, the ability to say that the federal constitution is credible, that it will last, that it will work, that people are created equally and that their rights are protected under the constitution.  The first necessity is that people actually believe in a solution.  That is the first layer of security.  The second layer of security is, as in any country, internal security, meaning everything from a legal system, a judiciary that works and is effective and is fair and implements the rule of law, and for those who do not necessarily take the point, police, who will then be helpful in implementing the rule of law, which is of course important also in the prospect of a reintegration of the communities that have been living largely apart from each other, which means people will be living around the island, and that will be local minorities, local majorities, depending on where you are, and that also needs some kind of oversight, in particular in the introductory phase, this is something we know from other examples.  Only after these two layers will we have the issue of whether people believe that the deal will be implemented.  Both sides are raising certain concerns: they are saying we might get a good deal on paper, but how do we know that these things will actually happen.  Both sides have certain things that they want to secure, assure or safeguard.  Since implementation will take some time, we need some kind of security of implementation.  Only after that comes the issue of external security, what will be the way a united federal Cyprus deals with its security and related aspects of foreign policy in a volatile region, which unfortunately has many even bigger problems than the one that we are facing on Cyprus, which after all is peaceful in nature, even if it is an unresolved conflict.

The idea now is that rather than just rehearsing the old scripts and reading from notes that have been around for decades, we will now try to decompose these different elements together, not to negotiate them but to try to look into the different components of this and to try to understand, hopefully with the help of some good research that has been done, what are Cypriots actually worried about, and are their worries necessarily solved by the current answers.  Are the current answers the right answers in the twenty-first century or do we want to adapt them?  In principle, we may have the instruments, we may have to abolish the instruments, we may have to change them, and the sides have of course not concluded on this because we just started.  I am very inspired, not only because of what happened in the meeting itself, but also the series of bilateral meetings that the Secretary-General and I had with all of the interested parties in order to start laying out the groundwork for what is going to be a difficult, important and probably quite inspiring process in trying to establish a new way of thinking around these issues, and then on this basis try to negotiate final positions.  Not easy, but the will is there, that is my message.  I would like to underline again that these series of events I have just described have not happened before.  All Cypriots know this by heart, but the rest of you need to know that there has been a long series of negotiation attempts, half a century of history of trying to solve the Cyprus problem.  Not everything is new under the sun, but the things I mentioned now, this map exchange, the fact that the guarantors are in the meeting with the Cypriots, the fact that we now are setting up this structured conversation about security itself, is new, it has not happened in this forum, and this is something that I really want to take note of.  All of this is first and foremost thanks to the leadership of the two leaders, Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci, but also for the active support of the other participants and again the European Union, who is a constructive observer in this process.  I want to really pay tribute to all of them.  I also want to use this opportunity to say that we must not lose any time and I really hope that all interested parties know that they are reflecting and preparing themselves for the meetings that will start on Wednesday; use that time optimally.  There are not many days and I think that there is a momentum now.  Larger political developments remind us that it is probably, or quite surely, very important to use these days as effectively as we can and in as constructive spirit as possible.  It is perfectly possible to be proudly defending your own position, while also understanding that other people can have another position without necessarily having an evil intent.  This is what we are seeing here.  I think it will be possible, but it will be hard.

Question:  It sounds very promising, positive and constructive, yet just in the last hour President Erdogan seems to have thrown a hand grenade into your negotiations, saying that Turkey will be in Cyprus forever.  Can you react to that please?

Mr. Eide: I am not going to say very much right now because we are actually in a dialogue with Turkey on a constant basis here.  Surrounding the discussion about format yesterday, there were some exchanges which were not from substance, which might have inspired a reaction.  I had no sign in the conversation that I had been having until a few minutes ago that the process as such was in any kind of trouble, but of course we take note of this.  I mentioned a few minutes ago that larger political developments in the neighbourhood remind us that one should not lose any time.  That was one of the reasons that I mentioned that.

Question:  Mr. Eide, when you were coming to Geneva, did you expect an uninterrupted level of meetings at the highest level?  Now what we are facing is an interrupted meeting, taking a break for a couple of days, on this level of meeting.  What kind of a contribution to this process and are you satisfied at the developments and can you encourage the people in order to be optimistic now?

Mr. Eide: You suggested that everybody expected that.  I did not and I am on record because I was here with you, saying a perfectly possible outcome is that we convene, have initial discussions, and that we define work.  I have almost no experience of a conference that is all taking place at the highest level, without a lot of prior preparations, which in this context was not possible because of the inter-relationship between the first and second parts.  I think there was a shared agreement that this was the way to do it.  Some delegations wanted to start right now, today; one delegation asked for a few days to prepare, that is not particularly dramatic; we are starting on Wednesday, in four or five days from now, and it is a continuous process.  The conference is open, it is just that it happens in sessions and with the ambition to be close within a reasonably short time.

Question: A kind of follow-up on the last question.  Is there a risk from your perspective that the working group won’t manage to find an agreement on that roadmap to prepare the more structured and political talks?  Could we image – one journalist spoke about the comments on the presence of that Turkish soldier, could we imagine that there might be two track talks moving forward on the easiest issues and keeping the most critical one for a later stage?

Mr. Eide: The security and guarantees chapter as I said is complicated, emotional and the traditional opening positions are far apart.  But there are not that many issues.  Basically, it is the question about what happens to the treaties of 1960; that is the essence of the question.  Shall there be a continuation of some kind of treaty of alliance and shall there be a continuation of some kind of guarantee system or not?  Of course the answers could be yes or no, but most answers normally are somewhere in the middle.  Maybe what we know today can be substituted by something else.  There is a will to look for this something else, but of course the only alternative is something that can be mutually agreed.  The default option is that we remain where we are.  We are not discussing whether to have these three treaties, they are there and have been there since 1960.  We are discussing whether we can do something about them, and if we fail, it means they will remain there.  The failure of a successful process means the guarantee system will be there in principle indefinitely, and the troops will be there in principle indefinitely.  So those who would like to change that, in particular, and the ones who need to engage in a serious dialogue about how that can be done.  If somebody thinks that it is okay, there is no particular urgency, if you see what I mean.  I think sometimes it is overlooked that there is a fall back here which is status quo.  The status quo of the divided Cyprus has been declared by the leaders, and not only this but over time, for instance in the joint declaration of 11 February, as unacceptable.  So they are officially on record saying that the current situation overall is unacceptable and needs to be changed.  Since the Cypriot leaders want to change something, I am talking again about the whole system, we try to support them as well as we can.

Question: What happens if the working group does not manage to find that roadmap?

Mr. Eide: Then we need a better working group.  I want to underline, maybe the word working group sounds like it is some kind of junior thing, it is second highest or highest civil servant level that we are talking about, so these people are very closely connected and will spend time and energy over some days to focus on defining the problem in a way that we can talk about it under similar subheadings.  This is actually what we are doing.  If you have your own understanding of what the problem is, and only your own answers to that question, there will never be a solution.  So first you have to define what the question is together, and when you know what the question is, you can start solving it.  That is the difference between the working group and the succeeding political level reconvening in a session, which will then take these elements and try to deal with them in a compartmentalized manner.

Question: Mr. Eide, I hear you saying that you will be important within the framework of the Lisbon Treaty.  Can you please explain what that treaty says, which article you are referring to, and does that mean that the EU will have a role that is more than an observer in the security talks?  Does that again mean that the EU will be part of the working group that will be established?

Mr. Eide: When it comes to the conference as such, there is an agreed framework that it will be a five-party conference, and then there is one member of another category, which we used interchangeably as observer or interested party, which is the European Union.  So they are not a participant in the conference, but they give advice and input to the conference.  That is an important compromise that is negotiated and agreed.   So we stick to that.  Where the EU is relevant, they will convey expertise and support and input.  They are not a decision maker in this process because the negotiations as such are with the guarantor powers and the Cypriot sides, but they are relevant partners so we found this modality.  It is not very different, although the subject matter is different, from how we have been doing it throughout the process, which is that a very active and solid EU representative with the team in Cyprus is involved whenever issues are discussed where EU issues are relevant, and always the consent of the sides.  This is to distinguish the two roles.  The other part of the question is that a united federal Cyprus will be a part of the EU and over the last years the EU has also taken a role, in no way like an alliance of anything like that, but there is a security dimension also to the EU treaty, so we have to remember them when we work on these issues.

Question: What will happen with the maps that the two sides have submitted?  Will they remain in the UN vault, or will they be put forward on the negotiating table once they begin to discuss territory again.

Mr. Eide: Well they are very safely taken care of here at the Palais des Nations, and they will stay there until I decide otherwise.  That decision will be based on what the sides will want to do next on maps.  So probably, at some point, when we re-open this issue to try to arrive at the final map, we will of course make reference to the proposals.  But these very days, we are not looking at the maps – that was done in this presentation session between the two Cypriot leaders, myself and a cartographer from each side, who then did serious calculations with us watching, and came to the conclusion that these were perfectly within the agreed parameters.

Question: Have you decided how you will continue the discussion on Cyprus in the agenda once you go back?

Mr. Eide: If this succeeds, and if this is the end process, all conversations are now happening under the roof of the Conference on Cyprus, however, in different formats, because the guarantors are solely involved when the discussion is on security and guarantees.  When the sides continue the work they have been doing in Cyprus, whether it is here or there, wherever it happens, it is only them.  But everything is under the roof and that is why the statement from yesterday from the conference, also points out, in its second point, in parallel, the negotiation of outstanding issues in the other chapters will continue between the two sides in Cyprus.  We do not have an agenda for the meetings next week, but we are working on that and it will follow in the coming hours.

Question: When you started on Monday, you mentioned that you expected the highest or second highest official from each of the three guarantor powers to come, and they did not.  My reading of this week is that the inter-Cyprus between Turkish and Greek Cypriots have proceeded relatively well, but yesterday, it seems that there may have been a spoiler or two among the guarantor powers.  Particularly given the comments from Mr. Erdogan today, I wanted to ask you how convinced are you that the guarantor powers are actually fully committed to this idea of an agreement, because it seems like the international powers are the ones that may be the most reticent about seeing a deal, at least more so than the Cypriots themselves.

Mr. Eide: On the first issue, I actually did say on the highest or second highest level, and I believe that Foreign Ministers are the second highest level in most systems, you have a Prime Minister, and below the Prime Minister you have other Ministers, and as a former Foreign Minister myself, we normally see each ourselves as first among equals in that club.  I think that was fulfilled frankly.  I already commented that there are good reasons to use our time effectively.  Of course, I am suggesting that we could use it even more effectively.  We also have to understand the highly emotional and complex nature of these things, and the conversations that you are referring to were on format and protocol, and not about substance.  People can entertain themselves for quite some time on issues of format and protocol, and this is something you have to get used to when you are negotiating peace in Cyprus.

Question: I was wondering Sir, in reference to my colleague’s comment seeking a response to President Erdogan’s comments, you implied that you knew what might have triggered that.  Is that basically the exchange between the Turkish Prime Minister and Mr. Juncker in a plenary session yesterday or was it some other comment?  Thank you.

Mr. Eide: The meeting was closed, even if people spoke a lot about it, but just for the record, it was not that.

Question: I would like to ask you if the two leaders in Cyprus have managed to achieve all the convergences that they are supposed to do in three or four days, and they finalized the deal on the first five issues, then that means we have a settlement.  Are the first five issues agreed on fully?

Mr. Eide: Largely, but not fully.  As I said, there are a small number of important issues that are not finally settled and that is not a coincidence, it is because of the inter-relationship between all issues.  The talks are declaredly interdependent.

Question: I am trying to say, if they managed to achieve full agreement, then what next?

Mr. Eide: If there is full agreement on the five first chapters, I will be very happy.  Secondly, it would make it easier to conclude the sixth chapter.  But it is unlikely to happen just that way because as I said, as I described security as a comprehensive phenomenon, some answers have to be sought in the chapter of governance for instance.  Not all security issues are in the chapter of security and guarantees, because security and guarantees principally relate to the treaties.  You could say that the outstanding issues, apart from some definition issues on property, and apart from the pending final map which we are not very far from after the presentation of maps, apart from that, you can say there are issues that are related, even if they pop up in different chapters.  It is perfectly normal.  Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  People have to understand that in order to get something on one front, they need to give something on another front.  In order to negotiate successfully, you cannot try to win every battle, you cannot have 51 per cent or more success in every discussion, there must be some ability to say what is most important for me and if something else is more important for you, maybe we can find a deal.

Question: Considering the complex relationship between the five chapters and the security guarantees chapter, do you think now that there are good proposals on the table to overcome those differences in the security chapters?  And secondly, can we assume that if you convene new conference at the political level, that is because you really feel that there is the last step and there will be a deal?  Do you think there are now good proposals to overcome the security issues?

Mr. Eide:  I will say what we have shared so far, ideas and inputs, and views, it is not only possessions, but actually some ides.  I would not refer to them as proposals, because for me a proposal is somewhat more structured and this is something that will come in the second phase, at the civil servant level.  I want to reiterate that it may sound strange, maybe, that after all these years and the fact that there are a few questions that people do not have structured proposals, but it comes in the nature that the two sides and their respective primary guarantor friends have had formalized positions which were unreachable.  So you have to come into this space to actually see that something can actually be done, before you can move from there to a proposal.  So I would say we have creative ideas, every single intervention, both in the morning opening session which was somewhat more formal, and in the more informal exchanges, were very interesting in a sense that people came with thoughts, they did not come to only read aloud from an old papers.  But it is not yet a proposal and this is what this group is going to do.

We should always be careful about predictions, particularly about the future, but I would dare to say that if you see the top leadership of the guarantors here, that is because they think that it is possible to find a solution.  Contra-factually, I don’t think so, if there is no progress, I don’t necessarily think that you need to have them here to decide that.  But of course, they will come with an intent but that doesn’t mean that we are done, that means that they will come here with a serious intent and a sense that there is a purpose of having that meeting.  And again, I just reiterate strongly, it does not only depend on the work in this group, it also depend on the progress on the work of on other chapters because of inter-related nature of the process.

Question: I was going to ask a similar question about security, but I think we have been over and over that enough.  A completely different question: do you think that after this, I mean if you get success in those negotiations, Britain’s role in terms of its responsibility towards Cyprus, and its role as a sort of, I don’t know what you call it – owner of military basis on the island, could be very much changed, or do you think that Britain’s situation will continue to be very similar to how it is now?  Thanks.

Mr. Eide:  Well, I first want to say that I very much appreciate the work that the Foreign Secretary Johnson and his team did here yesterday and still today.  There is a very strong and active involvement from the UK in trying to solve this.  Well, I wouldn’t say, I do not think anybody expects a significant change beyond that change that will eventually happen to the guarantee system, whatever happens to that.  Because of the sovereign bases, nobody has proposed anything but keeping the sovereign bases there.  The UK has previously promised that in the event of a reunification, some parts of the sovereign areas will be returned to Cyprus as some kind of reunification gift, and that promise has been reiterated lately, so this is still on the table.  So that is of course the change of the extent of the land that is sovereign British territory but not a phenomenon.  Cyprus is a country where almost everyone speaks fluent English and where you have very strong cultural, educational and economic ties and I would imagine that the relations with the United Cyprus would be even stronger than today.  And of course, there are other things going in in the world, including Brexit, and we will be following very closely whatever implications that will have on relations between Cyprus and the UK, which will be part of the changed relationship between the European Union and the UK.

Question: Me. Eide, you just answered a part of my question, and I will ask you what about outstanding issues that the leaders will discuss in the parallel event in Cyprus? As far as I understand, property will be one of the issues they will address in Cyprus, but what about others?  Actually, I just really wonder about the rotating presidency – has it already been discussed during these three days of negotiations in Geneva, I wonder this?  And if it is not, what is going to happen with the rotating presidency, is it going to be discussed at the final phase of the talks, with security and guarantees?

Mr. Eide:  So, if you ask whether the rotating presidency has been discussed – it has been discussed here, and in more or less every other meeting on governance for many, many years.  But there is not a conclusion to that questions yet, so in a sense your question points in the right direction: this is a question that will have to be solved and it will probably be solved in a very late phase.  But of course, we are in this late phase, so the late phase is not necessarily far away.  Actually, to be correct, the question is about the nature of the executive, because rotating presidency is one proposal under the heading; nature of the executive.  There is the agreement that there will be an executive presidency, so the question is how it is composed, what kind of election system there is, but its roles are well defined.

On property, it is correct, that, the property, there was a nearly breakthrough which was quite seminal in drawing up an overall understanding of how the property regime will be.  That was more than a year ago, early in the talks, and a very significant breakthrough, inspired by the modern European jurisprudence in finding the way to most adequately deal both with the rights of the dispossessed owners whose property rights will be fully respected, while also minimizing the hardship for current users.  This framework is there for a long time, it is the final definitions that we have been struggling with, because, as I said, the devil is in the detail, and the small definition issues, for instance the nature of “emotional link” will have significant implications for who ends up on what side of the equation.  So these things we are still working on.

Question :  Thank you.  I have a totally unoriginal question to ask you and that is: is this the last best chance of achieving an agreement?  And after 43 years of division on the island of Cyprus, are people weary enough to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve the compromises that you believe are necessary for achieving an agreement?  Thank you.

Mr. Eide:  I prefer to refer to it as the best chance.  There are a number of people who are saying the “last chance”; as you know, President Juncker said this a few days ago; they might be right, and I understand the reasons why they say this.  But as the Special Adviser and facilitator of the talks, I prefer to refer to it as the best chance, but I also keep saying and have said it a number of times, even today, that people who would like a solution should use the best of the momentum that still exists while it still exists

Well, I again, the final decision is to be made by the people in the referenda, one referendum but on each side but on the same day, and we will know only when we see the outcome.  But the likelihood of that being two yesses is very dependent on the success of the two leaders in agreeing to something that satisfies their own community without creating unnecessary hardship for the other community, so that both are interested in two yesses, not only one yes.  And one of the many positive, very positive experiences I’ve had over these years as leading this, facilitating these negotiations, the very frequent reference that the two leaders make when they are together, that “we are very much aware that you need a yes too, and there is no purpose of me getting a yes if you lose, because then we both loose.”  And this is something they know and tell each other, and they have made many statements themselves where they say, they are negotiating on behalf of their own community, taking the interest of the other community into account, and in the interest of United Federal Cyprus.  I would actually suggest most of the issues have very little to do with whether you are Turkish Cypriot or Greek Cypriot; it is basically to have good structure of state and good economy for Cyprus, whoever you are, whether you are Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot, or Maronite, or Armenian, or foreigner, or whatever else you are.

My experience from working on other conflicts that then are overcome is that when you are in conflict, you think of the word conflict despite the absence of killing and bloodshed, it is a conflict because it wasn’t ended, you tend to privilege that thing that defines you as two groups; once the conflict is over, that issue will compete with a lot of other distinctions between people, like young and old, men and women, and rich and poor, and north and south, academic or not, and eventually, you absorb that particular difference that is one of many.  Whereas conflict tends to make it into the one thing in the world.  So, by overcoming conflict, people few years later, look back and say, why, what was the dispute about again, and why was this an issue.  But it is very hard to imagine before, and the best way of experiencing that is to visit some countries that have successfully gotten through these things, and that are still quarrelling and discussing things, but completely different things, for example how to use the state budget and should there be more taxes or less taxes, and these kind of normal things.  The conflict has created a privileging of the phenomenon of very small difference, namely whether you primarily speak Turkish or you primarily speak Greek, although you are all Cypriots, and whether you predominantly live in the north or in the south, from all other issues you can discuss.  With the ability of Cypriots to discuss things, I feel confident that they will find enough to do even if the conflict one day I solved, which I think will be.

Thank you.

END.