Press Conference by Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus, at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, on 11 January 2017

Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General briefs the press on the third day of the Cyprus talks, Palais des Nations, Geneva. 11 January 2017. UN Photo / Violaine Martin

Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Cyprus: Thank you very much.  As I think everybody in this room knows, we are only half a day away from the convening of the conference on Cyprus tomorrow.  Today, we had a productive morning session and I would say that in the 48 hours since we last met here, much has happened in the Cyprus talks between the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Akinci.  We are on track.  We have dealt with some of the most difficult issues.  We have touched upon almost all of them.  We have solved many of them, and we are close to resolving some other issues.  Again I want to reiterate that if the issues that we brought with us to Geneva would have been easy, we wouldn’t have been here.  So the whole purpose of coming here was that they were certain elements of these talks, which have been going on now for 20 months, which could only be dealt with as a part of the end game and that is what we are trying to do.  There is still work to do.  The experts are meeting constantly.  The leaders had a little break, although I think they are consulting with their teams, and they will meet again in an afternoon or evening session.  Yesterday, we continued to work until almost midnight.  I think it can be late today as well, because the whole purpose now is to be ready so that as of tomorrow, when the guarantor powers the EU are here with us, that we are able to really deep dive and get a good start on the discussion on security and guarantees.  I would like again to say that what is happening tomorrow, whatever outcome, is historic, because it is the first time in this process that the guarantor powers have actually met with the Cypriots to discuss this very contentious, traditionally very difficult issue of security and guarantees, basically the entire security setup that will surround a settlement in Cyprus.  The discussion will start tomorrow.  We of course do not believe that it will be over tomorrow, but we are eager to see that it gets off to a good start.  It was very important that we were able to use these three days optimally.  While there is still work to do, hard work, I think we are roughly where we wanted to be at this stage and that is thanks to one thing, it is thanks to the determination, will and leadership of Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci, who despite the many obstacles that they have been facing, and are still facing, are still committed to solving this problem together.  I have been working with them for 20 months and have been constantly impressed by how, at the end of the day, they are able to draw conclusions out of difficult issues.  I have seen that again now.  We have a couple of convergences from this morning, which we have been waiting for for a long time, including one which has been mentioned by at least one of the spokespersons, which is the constitutional amendment issue, and some others which we will inform about in due time.  I think that is what I want to say as an opening, but I am ready to take questions.

Question: Mr. Eide, are you satisfied that the presence of the guarantor powers on the Foreign Ministers’ level?

Mr. Eide:  Yes, I will be happy to see the Foreign Ministers here tomorrow.  It is actually a quite normal procedure that a topic like this starts on a high political level, and when and if successful, is escalated to the very highest level.  I mentioned this on Monday.  At that time, it was not absolutely clear, but the guarantor powers have coordinated together and have all been talking to each other repeatedly over the last days, and of course with me and the Secretary-General.  They have agreed that they will now all start on this level and then we will see how things develop in the hours and days that will follow.

Question: Sir, could you explain the modalities of the submission of maps in the territorial discussion, which is due to start this evening?

Mr. Eide:  Yes I can.  It is a very important and historic moment.  Never before have we had an exchange or presentation of maps created by the Cypriot delegations themselves, because if you remember the Annan Plan times, the final map was proposed by the United Nations and not by the Cypriots themselves.  This time, loyal to the principle that every sentence and comma is written by Cypriots, the maps that will be presented by the sides today are maps that they have developed based on the conversations in Mont Pèlerin and after, so this is very important.  Please understand this.  For one side, a big part of the historical trauma that people have been living with for generations is the loss of land and property where people used to live.  This is a big emotional trauma for many people.  At the same time, today, a number of people have been living their lives normally for generations, 42 years maybe, in exactly the same place, people who themselves might have been displaced in the south, who have now established new lives.  It is important to know that if you are younger than 84 years old, most of your life has happened after 1974.  So we are dealing with an issue which is highly charged on both sides.  One side, probably or more than probably, is ready to present and exchange, let us say give away, of territory that it has been holding for all these years, and where people live.  Then another side about to regain access to territory that they want to have.  So it is an emotionally charged issue.  After this long introduction to your question, let me say that we will meet this afternoon in a special room.  It will be the leaders and myself and one cartographer from each side, who will then do the formal presentation and the cartographers will then help identify that the agreed conditions that have to be met are met.  When that has happened, the maps will be transferred to a vault here at the UN and will be only in the possession of the United Nations, but it will be seen by both sides and verified by their cartographers.  That is what is going to happen, and we will then take it from there.

Question: Then what happens, the maps go into a vault, and then what?

Mr. Eide:  Then we will continue discussing all issues.  The maps are then known to the two sides.  They know the agreement they have on the general parametres of these maps are being fulfilled.  The purpose of the exchange among the three cartographers, who are experts on reading maps, from the UN and from each side, is to verify that these criteria have been fulfilled.  The very final map will be the outcome of the overall process, but now we know that we are within reach.  These maps will not be presented publicly because of the extreme sensitivity of the issue.  I would also like to say that there have been stories that the maps have already been exchanged and people have even publicized maps in the media.  Those maps are not correct.  There has been no exchange of maps at this stage.  I have not seen the final maps, and nor has anyone else involved in this process, except of course for the persons who have prepared them.  

Question: Could you tell me please about tomorrow’s conference.  Is there a specific concept or framework or proposal that the guarantor powers and Cypriot sides will start talking about on security and guarantees, and if not, how will the process go?

Mr. Eide: Over the past months and weeks and days, there have been a series of interactions between all the relevant players who will be here tomorrow about the issues that will be discussed, trying to test out positions and see where they are.  Some of this happened with Secretary-General António Guterres.  Again I would like to reiterate that he has today been in office for 11 days and he has spent more than half of those days on Cyprus issues.  He has, together with me, in direct contact with the Foreign Ministers of all guarantor powers and with Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci, so we come prepared in that sense to the meeting.  But we are not at this stage discussing one specific text which will then be agreed; that has to evolve from the early stages of the conference.

Question: I was wondering if you have any details or information if finally the leaders of Greece, Turkey and Britain will join the conversation, Ms. May, Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Tsipras.

Mr. Eide: I know for a fact that they are all following very closely, and they have been themselves directly involved among each other, over the phone, and with their experts and with us and the Secretary-General in this issue.  So they are definitely involved, even if they are not physically in Geneva tomorrow.  I think what I can say is that the way these things normally happen is that you do much of the preparatory work at a level below what we call the principals, and the principals will come in at a later stage, either to be part of a sealing of an agreement, or if you need to escalate a level up in order to get to that agreement.  They are positively engaged, with the view to contribute to finding solutions, that is what I can say for sure, and I would reiterate that now the fact that they will be all at Foreign Ministers’ level is that the guarantors in their conversations agreed to meet at the same level to avoid any confusion.  A Foreign Minister is a Foreign Minister, and I can say that as a former Foreign Minister myself.

Question: Is there a possibility that they might come even over the weekend?

Mr. Eide: I am not their spokesperson, but I know that they will be following closely and they would like this to be solved.  So in principle, yes, but by saying that I am not giving you any kind of secret message.  I am just saying that it can happen or it might not happen.

Question: You emphasized on Monday the important link between the talks over the first three days, and the talks that would take place in the latter part of the week.  To what extent has the lack of clarity on the part of the guarantor powers about what they want to achieve been a key factor in slowing the conclusion of talks in the first three days?

Mr. Eide: I don’t necessarily subscribe to the assumption that they have been slowed.  These talks have their own dynamics and I happen to know them quite well because I spend most of my days with these peoples discussing the issues.  They are difficult issues.  Generally, I think we are now, more or less, where I was hoping to be now, maybe with a few hours delay but nothing dramatic, and we have many hours to go and they are dedicated to work until late tonight.  I think we will be where we should be when today is over.  Of course I will be able to say that with even more comfort at midnight, but that is my sense, particularly after having experienced a very productive and constructive morning session.  Of course while the primary focus of the discussions that we have been having so far has been on the five chapters, there has also been brainstorming on security and guarantees.  Again, because of the sensitive nature of the issue, I don’t want to say much about the content, but I want to say that the quality of that discussion was the best that I had ever heard on that particular topic in the Cyprus talks.  I think the reason is that people are now actually preparing for this, that this might actually happen, and that means you have to go from your traditional opening position to actually start for looking for ways to solve it.

Question: There has been a confusion on who convenes the conference because of a statement you made on Monday referring to the leaders. I would like to ask who will convene the conference for the security issue tomorrow.

Mr. Eide: The United Nations of course.  We are in the Palais des Nations and the Secretary-General is coming and I work for the Secretary-General and we are convening the conference and nobody else.

Question: If I understood you correctly, you mentioned earlier that you had touched on all of the subjects and you have solved some of them.  Could you tell us which ones have been solved?  We just heard a statement a few minutes ago from Mr. Juncker who says that this is the last chance.  Do you agree with that?

Mr. Eide: We have touched on all issues, that is correct, some more deeply and some not equally deep, but basically we have focused on the most difficult ones.  The ones that we gave less attention to are those that we know we will solve quite easily because we are practically and we are talking about more or less technical outstanding issues, which is not to suggest they are not important, but they have less political drama.  While we have touched on everything, and I have already mentioned security and guarantees, I would say governance, property, and now this afternoon territory, have been as they should be, the key focus of our attention.  A number of issues within each chapter have been solved, but I would not think that I would right now at this press conference, when the meeting is still going on, try to make an inventory.  As a general statement, one achievement might be more popular on one side and another one on the other side, so if I make a selection, I know what is going to happen after spending a few years in Cyprus.  So I will leave it at that, but I am happy with it.  Is it a last chance, that is the kind of thing that historians know best in 100 years.  I generally think that on my side, one should be a little bit careful.  What I am absolutely convinced of is that this is the best chance and that I cannot see anything that would suggest that the chance will get any better by waiting four months or eight months or two years or 42 years or 52 years, as has been tried before.  There is simply nothing in the trend lines that I see internationally that suggests that the world is getting more constructive, that people are coming together more, that problems are more easily overcome, that we get a world leadership that is more helpful, so I don’t really see what we would be gaining from waiting, so in that sense, I have strong sympathy for what Mr. Juncker says, without necessarily wanting to issue a statement on behalf of future historians.

Question: One of the key questions was a rotating presidency.  Could you tell us if that has been addressed or solved?

Mr. Eide: You had a question earlier about which issues were addressed or resolved and I gave an answer which I thought was a very good one.

Question: We have all heard and understood that this is really not the end of the process, it is just a big part of it.  But once this conference ends, whether it is tomorrow or this weekend, what should we expect?  If it is a success, what are you looking for to tell you that it is good or that it is not as good as you hoped?  

Mr. Eide: I will answer that, although answering that of course could put me in trouble in a week’s time.  There is no defined end date, it depends on how much time it takes.  If you accept that as the premise of what this is, I would say that this is the time where as a minimum, the Cypriots are able to overcome all the outstanding internal issues and to agree with the guarantor powers and other interested powers what is the framework security arrangement for the island so that a comprehensive political agreement can be sought.  The comprehensive political agreement will probably still take some time because with full political agreement at the leaders’ level, you need to work on the constitutional next, you need to work on details, there is a lot of implementation work that has got to be implemented and only then you announce a referendum to the communities in Cyprus, so don’t expect that we will be flying home from Geneva with a comprehensive settlement in our hands, but we will go home with the sense that it is coming because we have overcome those obstacles that had created a question mark, and what we now have to do is some homework to do in order to be ready to present this as a comprehensive package.  I think this is the goal that we are looking at.

Question: The case for the Cyprus talks has always been that nothing is solved until everything is solved.  Are the parties still insisting on this principle?  You said a solution is within reach, when we were talking about the maps.  Can you be more specific about that? What is exactly within reach, the whole map issue, or some specific thing about the map?

Mr. Eide: The principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed is actually an excellent principle.  I have been involved in many negotiations where it has been extremely helpful.  It means that for a political leader or for relevant players outside, they have different interests and different core issues, and logically they also have certain things that are not so difficult to accommodate the other.  But you can only do that in a comprehensive setting.  Since it is physically impossible to discuss every issue at the same time, you try to take down one after the other, but always conditional on the assumption that at the end of the day, everything is agreed.  This is the way it was done in the Colombia talks and in many other negotiations.  

Question: Then how can you say that you have already solved some things?

Mr. Eide: Okay, I have to go into more detail.  This is something that all the Cypriot journalists know by heart.  We have a very structured set of chapters, six chapters, and many sub-headings, which are perfectly agreed as headings.  Then in the course of the negotiations, the sides present a view and then a counter-view and the way we do it is that if the proposal was Greek Cypriot, it comes in blue font, and if it comes from the Turkish Cypriot side, it comes in red font, and eventually as we agree, we turn it into black font, so when you see black text in the hundreds of pages of agreement that we carry around, it means it has been agreed, but under the premise that everything is agreed when it has all been agreed, it is not like a commitment that you can run away from or come away from if there is no settlement, but under the assumption of all “black”, this is “black”.  It is an important principle that once it is black, you leave it black or you agree to change it.  At times we discover that something that we thought was a good idea was not a good idea, and then if we agreed to that, we can change it to a “new black”, but you will not turn from “black” to “red” or “black” to “blue” because “black is black”.  This means it is agreed on, if other issues are agreed, this is a compromise or condition that has been set.  

Question: I would a clarification on the map.  I am not quite clear whether the map has been reconciled or whether there is still work.  If they are going to go into a vault, does work still need to be made in terms of reconciling the possibly divergent opinions from each side as regard to the final map.  Now another technical question, it has to do what time does the conference begin tomorrow, will there be public statements that we can attend, listen to and report on, or is everything going to be done behind closed doors, which will make us very unhappy because we won’t have much to report on.

Mr. Eide: In the Mont Pèlerin discussions, we arrived at an understanding on the volume of territory that would be allocated to each constituent State.  Just as a reminder, we are creating one country, a bi-(inaudible) bi-communal federation in which there will be two constituent States, so seen from the outside world, it is one country, but what we have been discussing is the internal administrative division between the Turkish Cypriot and the Greek Cypriot constituent States.  So the question, since the outer limits of the country is obviously defined since it is an island, the question on maps is where does the administrative division go between the northern and southern part.  The Mont Pèlerin discussions led to something very close to full agreement on the volume, with a deviation that the two sides agreed, one was 0.5 per cent more, the other was 0.5 per cent less, which means an overall deviation of 1 per cent which is very limited.  The agreement was then that when they came to the time of presenting maps, they will present a map that fulfils this volume criteria.  There are several ways of drawing a line that corresponds to a certain percentage.  What we do not know, and I think the assumption is quite openly, and there is no drama about this, is that they will not be identical because the same volume can be drawn in different ways.  This will be the entry point, and then hopefully, when the time is right, which I hope is soon, they will be able to reconcile completely so that there is one agreed line.  This is exactly as was agreed on the first of December when they set this up.  The two leaders said they will meet in Geneva on the ninth of December, on the eleventh they would exchange or present maps, and on the twelfth the conference convenes, and that is exactly what is happening.  It is on this model that the two sides will see their optimal presentation of how they fit this volume to the map of the island of Cyprus, then on the timing.  

Question: On the maps, so work might still be done on the final map during the conference, correct?

Mr. Eide: In principle, yes.

Question: You said that this is the best chance.  Is there any possibility that we will leave Geneva with a date for a referendum?  If we don’t leave here with a date for a referendum, is there any possibility that there will be a repeat of the international conference in the near future?

Mr. Eide: Good question.  We don’t need to leave here with a date for a referendum to have a success because it is perfectly possible that we will leave very happily from here with a full understanding of what this is going to look like, but with a sense that let us now under normal conditions back in Cyprus prepare a federal constitution and look into the constituent States constitutions, make other ways of extracting the political agreement into legal text, and also conduct other preparatory measures, and only then say time is right for a referendum, because after all, when you invite people to vote about something, they need to know what they are voting about, they need to see the deal.  There is no requirement for a date in order to have a successful conference.  Of course they might, but that is not really the main focus now.  The main focus is to get to an understanding which would then transform into a comprehensive settlement.  I do not think we are thinking about a new conference.  I would rather say that we would allow this conference to take, if necessary, time, but since this is the moment, as I said earlier, I cannot see anything improving by waiting, so I think it is best to use this chance, and with this chance I give that some space for what this exactly means.

Question: In a previous question regarding the maps and the conference, have you said that the maps will be at the table of the conference? I think the conference is all about security and guarantees, right?

Mr. Eide: The international conference on Cyprus will not deal with maps.  That is correct.

Question: Since the representatives of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are here and have met with advisers regarding property and land, has this been assisted?  Is there anything new when it comes to the financial liability to the solution? Is there anything new regarding the studies that the International Monetary Fund is supposed to have handed out a few months ago regarding a solution?

Mr. Eide: Thank you for that because I would like to very strongly use your question to thank both the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the EBRD, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, which have been extremely involved in the issues you have mentioned, very constructively so with the sides, under UN auspices as agreed by the leaders, that the UN is the coordinator of the international support but through us they provide direct support to the sides.  This support has been very helpful in assuring that some of the chapters that are most advanced and basically largely finished, for instance on economy and EU matters, are not only agreed but are agreed in such a way that what we are creating is actually a viable, well functional federation with fiscal discipline and an understanding of how they can come together without creating new unnecessary costs, like for instance a bloated public service and so on.  I think that has been very helpful.  When it comes to the financing of the settlement and the so-called cost of the settlement, I say so-called because it is about getting support into Cyprus, which normally is a good thing, there have been some development, yes, but I don’t think I have anything to announce, apart from the fact that support has been constructive.  There is an inter-relationship between finding a deal and finding the money for a deal.  I think the idea that you can go around and collect money prior to an agreement is simply not possible.  So you have to connect the eventual financial support to a breakthrough of a deal in order to get this finance.  But I am not very worried, I think this is clearly possible and good work has been done.  

Question: I was wondering if you could elaborate if the four European Union principles are ring-fenced in this agreement and that there would not be deviations and caveats from the four principles of the European Union.  Thank you.

Mr. Eide: It has been very important, it’s been an imperative for us to ensure that.  What we are doing is we are reunifying a country, which as a united federal republic would be a full member of the European Union and in full compliance with the principles enshrined in the European Union.  And again, the European Commission has been very much involved, as you know, Mr. Juncker will be here, as well as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms. Mogherini.  But we also have a very good representative of Mr. Juncker in Cyprus who is also here with the team, who has been actively contributing to all those issues in the talks which have a European Union dimension to them.  There is nowhere where the degree of the United Nations – the European Union participation is as strong as here, but this is also very logical because we are dealing with a peace process in a European Union Member State, or what will be a full European Union Member State.  

Question: I am the president of ACANU, which is an association of correspondents accredited to the United Nations at Geneva, so I do not represent the travelling press and I do not represent the UNTV.  First of all, many thanks for updating us on a regular basis, we really appreciate it.  But I have to raise a serious question and demand.  ACANU has set up a pool for delivering and gathering images and pictures to the international press and international media.  This pool has been seriously discriminated against in the last couple of days.  Today and yesterday, this pool didn’t get any access to the talks; on Monday, the access of this pool was restricted whereas the access for the official media and the UNTV was given.  So, for three days in a row, the ACANU pool was discriminated against, and the travelling press wasn’t and the UNTV wasn’t either.  We would like to ask you to change this in order to make sure that the international media and the world will get to know what is going on here.  You said this might be a historic moment, or will be a historic moment and it is a best opportunity to solve this problem, so we think that the international media should get fair access to those talks.  Thank you very much.

Mr. Eide:  Thank you.  I think on the way it is organized, I will leave it to Alessandra, but as a general principle I think that we should be as open as possible within the realms of the necessary precautions for the confidentiality of the talks and so on.  […]  While I am not going to comment on the pool access, as a general statement, in the Cyprus talks, also back in Cyprus, we have been trying to be as accessible as we can and as transparent as we can.  Sometimes the primary limitation was that we are maybe not supposed to say more than the sides themselves because they are the ones who own the process and should be respected as the people who are the primary interlocutors.  To the best of my knowledge, there was lot of press engagement from the press spokesmen from the sides, and I am here now to give the information from the United Nations side.  But of course, what is most important is whether the people who are supposed to make the deal feel that they were closer to the deal, so I will point you into their direction directly.


Source: United Nations Information Service – Geneva