United Nations.- By Apostolis Zoupaniotis
The launching of an intensive new process on Cyprus prematurely is inadvisable, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Sir Kieran Prendergast said here Wednesday. Briefing the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s Mission of Good Offices in Cyprus, he also underlined that nothing positive would be served by a new effort that ended in a high-profile failure, or else in a frustrating stalemate.
He also told the Security Council members in the open briefing that as things stand, the Secretary-General believes that it would be prudent to proceed very carefully and that Kofi Annan intends to reflect on the future of his mission of good offices in the period ahead.
In addition, depending on the evolution of events and attitudes on the island, it may become appropriate to consider appointing a Special Adviser, to engage the parties and explore whether the necessary common ground existed or could be built to enable full-scale negotiations to resume.
In his briefing, Sir Kieran noted that at the Secretary-General’s instruction, he visited Cyprus, Greece and Turkey between 30 May and 7 June for consultations on the future of his mission of good offices in Cyprus.
The Secretary-General’s purpose in asking him to travel to the region was to ”take the pulse”, to find out where the parties stand, to seek their views on what, if anything, the United Nations should be doing in current circumstances, and to report those views to him, along with options and advice regarding the priority, intensity and resources he might wish to assign to the good offices.
He said that he met Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos three times and Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader, twice and also met political leaders on both sides.
On the Greek Cypriot side, he noted, ”Mr. Papadopoulos said that he was eager for negotiations to resume under the auspices of the Secretary-General.”
Sir Kieran said that on procedure, President Papadopoulos said that ”new negotiations should be carefully prepared.”
”His position was that, in any resumed negotiations, there should be no deadlines, no arbitration of substantive issues by the UN or third parties, and only a settlement plan agreed by the parties should be submitted to referendum. At the same time, he accepted that negotiations should not be open-ended,” Sir Kieran said.
On substance, he added, President Papadopoulos ”said that he believed the plan finalised by the Secretary-General last year gave the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey, in his words, nearly everything they wanted, more than they needed, and more than was fair and in his view, that is why a large majority of Greek Cypriots had rejected the plan while a large majority of Turkish Cypriots had accepted it.”
Sir Kieran said he told Papadopoulos ”the other side would find daunting the breadth and depth of what the Greek Cypriot side had elaborated, and I encouraged them to produce a list of focused, finite, manageable, prioritised proposals.”
On the Turkish Cypriot side, Sir Kieran said Talat told him he wanted to see a settlement as soon as possible based on the UN plan, and that he would like to see intensive negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General.
On procedure, Talat favoured a process with UN arbitration and clear time limits for negotiations, adding that the Turkish Cypriots were disappointed at the failure of the Security Council to react to the Secretary-General’s good offices report of 28 May 2004.
On substance, he noted, the Turkish Cypriot leader ”had said that his people had been prepared to accept the UN plan not because it was ideal, but as a compromise.”
”He stressed that certain key features – political equality, partnership, bizonality, bicommunality, the guarantee and alliance treaties – were the essence of the plan and should not be eroded,” Sir Kieran said.
Sir Kieran noted that to address Greek Cypriot concerns, Talat pledged he would be prepared to entertain minor changes within the parameters of the plan, noting he wanted a clear and final list of demands from the Greek Cypriot side. When he conveyed orally the areas of concern that the Greek Cypriot side elaborated to him, Talat said that he regarded these as well outside the parameters of the UN plan and unacceptable to the Turkish Cypriots.
In Athens, Sir Kieran said, the Greek government said it wished to see a resumption of the Secretary-General’s mission of good offices and that Greece believed that on certain aspects the Annan plan reflected the fears of the past more than it did the challenges of the future with Cyprus as a member of the European Union.
In Ankara, the Turkish government said it wished to see a settlement based on the UN plan and that Turkey would welcome an intensive process under the Secretary-General’s auspices. For that to happen, the Turkish government believed that it was important for the Greek Cypriot side to furnish a clear and exhaustive list of changes it would like to see to the plan, Sir Kieran noted.
Assessing the situation, Sir Kieran said, ”All parties wish to see some sort of resumption of active UN good offices. All parties accept that the UN plan should serve as the document on which negotiations would resume.”
However, ”on the negative side,” the UN diplomat noted that ”the gap between the stated positions of the parties on substance appears to be wide, while confidence between them does not seem high; rather the contrary.”
”These two factors, especially in combination, make efforts to establish common ground extremely difficult,” he said.
Sir Kieran said that, as he considers what course of action to take, there are a number of additional factors that the Secretary-General will bear in mind. He believes that the starting point of the United Nations must and should be full respect for the decision of the voters on each side in the referendum of 24 April 2004, and an approach that is guided by that full respect.
He noted that ”the highest priority concerns which led Greek Cypriots to vote the way they did would most certainly have to be addressed in any future process based on the UN plan – and the Greek Cypriot electorate must have confidence that this would be borne in mind in a renewed process.”
In this context, Sir Kieran added, ”a prioritised and exhaustive list of concrete proposals for negotiation would be an important advance, because it is very hard to address a long list of concerns in an ordered way if they are expressed without modulation or indication of their relative importance.”
Sir Kieran said that at the same time ”it would not help the search for a solution if Greek Cypriot concerns were met in a way that lost majority support for the UN plan on the Turkish Cypriot side – and the Turkish Cypriot electorate must have confidence that this, too, would be borne in mind in any renewed process.”
Noting that ”it is natural for each party to seek to protect its own interests on both procedure and substance,” Sir Kieran said ”it is important to encourage both sides to focus on their over-riding common interest, namely the need to agree on revisions so that the UN plan can command majority support not only in their own community but in the other too.”
In this regard, he added, ”the Secretary-General wishes to stress the obligations of the parties themselves.”
”Outsiders can help but it is the parties who must summon the vision, courage and political will needed to make a settlement, with all that this implies by way of compromise. Leaders have to lead, not just follow their supporters. A settlement will only become possible if the parties act towards each other in a way that conveys respect, understanding for one another’s concerns, and a desire for an early settlement,” he said.
Responsibilities also fall on the governments of Greece and Turkey, the UN diplomat pointed out, adding that ”they must keep in mind that the Cyprus problem should be settled on its own merits, in the interests, first and foremost, of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.”
He also said the strong support of Greece and Turkey for the mission of good offices, for which the Secretary-General is grateful, ”will need to be matched by a readiness to think afresh on certain aspects of the problem, so that a solution can be achieved on the basis of a revised UN plan.”
As to the next step, Sir Kieran said ”the Secretary-General is mindful of his own responsibilities, and he remains committed to assisting the parties to achieve a settlement.”
Noting the persistence of the status quo on the island is unacceptable, the UN diplomat said that ”at the same time, launching an intensive new process prematurely would be inadvisable.”
”I hope the Council would agree that nothing positive would be served by a new effort that ended, as the previous two efforts did, in high-profile failure, or else in a frustrating stalemate,” he added.
Sir Kieran said that ”as things stand, the Secretary-General believes that it would be prudent to proceed very carefully,” adding that Annan ”intends to reflect on the future of his mission of good offices in the period ahead.”
”As he does so, he will take full account of the reaction of the Council to this report. He will also be observing closely developments on the ground and, in particular, any evolution in the position of the parties, in light of the assessment and observations made above,” he added.
Furthermore, he said that, depending on the evolution of events and attitudes on the island, it may become appropriate to consider appointing a Special Adviser, on a when actually employed basis, who would engage the parties and explore whether the necessary common ground existed or could be built to enable full scale negotiations to resume. ”For, ultimately, it is only through negotiations between them on the basis of the plan that a settlement will be achieved,” he concluded.