United Nations.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis/CNA
Right now the plan is to do our utmost to help Cyprus leaders to get to a deal in the near future, but if that fails maybe other options have to come on the table, UNSG`s Special Adviser on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide has told CNA.
Eide said that Cyprus leaders, namely President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, want to take stock where things are as regards the talks for a Cyprus settlement and if there is a possibility to reconvene the Conference on Cyprus or not, and this will be a key topic of their meeting on May 17.
In an interview with CNA, Eide, who will have a meeting later on Friday with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said that if there is will, it is possible to proceed with the Conference on Cyprus in Geneva, noting that there has been a determined effort particularly at the level of the negotiators in closing outstanding issues. At the same time, he stressed that given “the drilling crisis that might be coming our way and the political dynamics in the pre-electoral period, it is important to use this time as effectively as possible.”
Eide noted that “if there is a direct showdown over drilling, my worry is that it can be potentially more dramatic than in 2014, because the general mood in the neighbourhood is more dramatic.” The UN diplomat said that they “have to be prepared for a negative outcome if it simply doesn’t work; and what the UN does then”, adding that there is also bigger discussion going on now about the future of peacekeeping missions in general.
Replying to questions, he said he needs within his responsibilities to make Guterres and the top leadership here, the P5 and other interested players aware that “we are approaching a particularly decisive moment, when this round of talks is over.”
As he said “the expectation is that the leaders want to take stock where we are and if this is moving forward. If there is a possibility to reconvene a conference or is if it is not possible. This will be a key topic of the meeting on 17th of May,” he added. “There are many possible outcomes of that. Given the things we have talked last time, the drilling crisis that might be coming our way and the political dynamics in the pre-electoral period, it is important to use this time as effectively as possible. And also, we the UN need to be prepared for all outcomes, positive or negative. There is an ongoing discussion here on what we do in the case of success, but also what we do in the case of failure,” he noted.
He noted that he met the P5 on Thursday and that they are in full agreement that these are critical weeks ahead. “They keep asking what they can do to help and all of them – including a number of other countries and the EU – are extremely eager to see this through. They are very worried about the prospect of this opportunity to being lost by factors outside of the talks themselves. We are determined, but a degree of worrying is raising and it is important to have that discussion here, Eide added.
Asked if it is feasible to move to the next state in Geneva, Eide said: “Yes, if the will is there it is feasible. There has been a determined effort, particularly at the level of the negotiators, in closing outstanding issues.”
He noted that the negotiators had another meeting on Thursday and some further progress was made. “Substantively, slowly but steadily, we are closing some of the `mid-sized` outstanding issues. That’s good, but we still need to know if the determination to take us to the very end is available,” he added.
“There are certain final things that have to happen and at some point you come to a moment where you cannot any longer have incremental process, meaning one thing after another. At some point you should start looking at the interrelation between the most complicated issues, such as the nature of the presidency, the final territorial issues; and we need a sense that this can be actually done before we try to close the security and guarantees chapter properly,” he added.
Responding to another question, the UN diplomat said that as of now, the two sides deliberately agreed on their meeting until the 17th of May. “But on the 17th they have the option to decide to continue for some time. But they wanted to use these four meetings and the very intense set of negotiators meetings to really get to the May 17 meeting where they more clearly see the time that’s left before July comes and we know what is going to happen,” he added.
Asked if the SG is considering the possibility of calling the two leaders in New York or meeting with them elsewhere, Eide said that this could happen at some point, “but this is not really the essence of our discussions here.”
“It is more on thinking about alternative contingencies for alternative outcomes. Because we also have to be prepared for a negative outcome if it simply doesn’t work; and what the UN does then. There is also bigger discussion going on now about the future of peacekeeping missions in general.
Asked if the P5 are concerned about the situation Eide replied: “Definitely. They are concerned and interested. They are constantly trying to see what they can do to help collectively and we see them now almost weekly in Nicosia and almost every time I am here.”
He noted that “it’s quite a privilege for the Cyprus process that we have such a united SC. I am not sure if everybody in Cyprus really appreciates how good that is, because the alternative we see in many other places the UN is active, a divided Council is much more difficult to give meaningful help on the ground.”
Asked if the escalation of the Turkish naval presence in Cyprus’ EEZ is a matter of concern and if he is seeing a repetition of the 2014 events, the UN diplomat said that “everything related to a potential full blown crisis by mid-summer is part of the reason for the worry I have and the Council has.”
“If there is a direct showdown over drilling, my worry is that it can be potentially more dramatic than in 2014; because the general mood in the neighborhood is more dramatic. The EU – Turkey relationship has become more complicated, also the Turkey – Greece relationship and the internal developments have become more complicated. At the same time, the prospect over a shared gas future for everybody on the island and also with the neighbors is also a positive prospect,” he added.
Asked if he sees the possibility instead of talking about the solution to start talking about CBMs, or measures to decrease the tensions in the Mediterranean, possible moratorium etc, Eide noted that “this is not something we are discussing here now.”
“Right now the plan we have is to do our utmost to help the leaders to get to a deal in the near future. But if that fails, maybe other options have to come on the table. I wanted to come here just now, because by June – July things may move very quickly in one direction or the other and it’s better to start the strategic thinking about these options early than to wait and see and then just scramble when things are there,” he stressed.
He said that the conversations we already had have been very promising in that respect and people are aware now that there is an issue and that we need to follow this closely. And the support remains strong, he concluded.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory. Anastasiades and Akinci have been engaged in UN-led talks since May 2015 with a view to reunite the island under a federal roof.