Nicosia.- Technical talks between the two sides are only a stepping-stone to discussing the bigger issues, not a parallel process unless both sides agree otherwise, a UN letter to Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat has said. The letter, a copy of which has been seen by the Cyprus Mail, was sent to Talat on Monday by Undersecretary-general for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari. It seeks to clarify what took place at the February 28 meeting in Paris between President Tassos Papadopoulos and UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan.
After the Paris meeting, Papadopoulos told reporters that it had been agreed that Varosha, dimilitarisation and settlers were among the issues that would be addressed during confidence-building measures.
The announcement surprised and angered the Turkish Cypriot leadership, which had assumed the measures would include everyday issues like waste management, water resource management and traffic congestion.
It had not agreed to any talks on the bigger issues that constitute the substance of the Cyprus issue.
The only evidence that could have been cited to justify the government claim that the technical committees would be discussing the big issues, was a paragraph in the statement issued after the meeting, stating that any progress made in these areas would be “beneficial”.
But Papadopoulos and the government have insisted on several occasions since that there were two parallel processes. He even went so far as to say the UN Secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, was mistaken in his interpretation of the Paris statement.
However, Gambari’s letter to Talat clearly states that Annan and Papadopoulos expressed their common sentiment that “it would be beneficial for all concerned” if progress could also be achieved on other issues such as demining, disengagement of forces, and Famagusta.
“Without relating these issues to the technical committees, it was agreed that further work needed to be done on them at a time and in a manner to be determined by both sides in order for progress to be achieved towards a comprehensive settlement,” Gamabari said.
“It should be clear from the wording of the statement that the issues to which these sentiments were attached are subject to discussion with the Turkish Cypriot side,” the letter said. “There was no unilateral agreement on issues that quite clearly have to be agreed by both sides.”
He also said the creation of the technical committees related to an agreement made by the two sides prior to the Paris meeting.
Under this deal, the sides had agreed that discussions at the technical level “were not to be a substitute for the negotiating process”.
Gambari also made it clear that the process to be undertaken was not intended to be a “piecemeal” approach as in various processes taking place simultaneously, but a “step-by-step” approach, starting as a first step with the technical issues to help fill the current gap between the two sides, reinstall trust and “create confidence and conditions for final talks toward a comprehensive settlement”.
The letter again makes clear that the Secretary-general does not think the situation is ripe for the resumption of fully-fledged political talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive settlement.
“He is concerned that the gap between the two communities, as well as the gap between words and deeds, are still too wide,” the letter said.
It acknowledged, however, that Annan was aware of the need to move forward and thus welcomed the fact that the two sides had agreed to the step-by-step approach.
The Paris meeting, it said was to review the situation in Cyprus and to discuss ways of moving forward. It also added that the statement issued afterwards was not necessarily a “joint statement” by Papadopoulos and Annan, from which the Turkish Cypriot side had been left out in the cold.
“Please rest assured that the intention of issuing the statement was to provide a concise account of the discussion on a number of issues, and not, in any way to create new facts on the ground without the agreement of the Turkish Cypriot side,” it said.
Gambari said there had been a firm commitment from the Greek Cypriot side to finding a settlement that would be acceptable to both sides during the Paris meeting, but Papadopoulos did not present his priorities on the Annan plan.
Appeasing the Turkish Cypriot side over a comment on the statement that placed the leaders of the two sides on an unequal footing, the letter said: “Please rest assured that the statement…does not diminish your role as the Turkish Cypriot leader and as a full-time partner in the search for a solution.”
“He (Annan) has asked me to reiterate what he said to you on the phone; to work with his special representative to devise practical approaches to bridging the differences between the two sides, thereby improving the environment for the resumption of talks,” Gambari concludes.
He also said the Secretary-general was also looking forward to meeting Talat at a convenient time.