United Nations.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
The report of the UN Secretary General on his mission of good offices in Cyprus provides strict recommendations to the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, as regards the future of the peace process on the island. The report was given to the members of the UN Security Council on Wednesday. The UN Secretary General, even though he avoids writing down analytically the convergences the two sides reached in the negotiations, provides a description on the current phase of the negotiations.
Ban Ki-moon notes that the process so far has been characterized by periods of sluggish activity together with some flashes on dynamism ahead of important events. “It is my concern that the political environment in the second quarter of 2011 will likely not be conducive to constructive negotiations. Parliamentary elections in the south are scheduled for May, while elections will be held in Turkey in June. In any society, intense political moments such as elections are rarely a time for compromises or flexibility. If substantive agreement across all chapters cannot be concluded ahead of the election cycle, the talks may go into abeyance and there is a serious risk that the negotiations could founder fatally.”
Ban announces his intention to conduct a broader assessment of the UN presence in Cyprus, in the coming months, with a view to recommend ways to adjust to ongoing developments.
In relation with his meeting with the two leaders in Geneva on January 2011, Ban stresses that at this time, “the leaders should be fully prepared with a practical plan for overcoming the major remaining points of disagreement. I ask them to dedicate significant efforts to meeting this goal”.
Ban acknowledges that the question of property is arguably the most complex of the issues under negotiation and recognize the efforts made by both sides to date to tackle the issue in a serious manner.
The UN SG notes that the Greek Cypriots hold, as a matter of principle, that the Greek Cypriots with property in the north should be able to choose between exchange, compensation or reinstatement. This is unacceptable to the Turkish Cypriots who say that 70 to 80 per cent of the property in the north is owned by Greek Cypriots and if all Greek Cypriot property owners were to be allowed reinstatement it would be impossible for the Turkish Cypriots to secure bizonality. The Turkish Cypriots request a ceiling on the number of Greek Cypriots who can have their properties reinstated. For the Greek Cypriots this is unacceptable. For the time being these two positions are irreconcilable, he adds.
The SG makes it clear that to negotiate successfully a bizonal, bicommunal federation, the two leaders will have to reconcile these and other seemingly irreconcilable issues across all six chapters.
“These include the issue of territory, as the Greek Cypriots have made it clear that it will be impossible for them to move forward without linking property discussions to the territory chapter. The Turkish Cypriots recently have said that territory is an issue they will only discuss in a multilateral conference, including the two parties to the talks and the guarantor powers. On the Treaty of Guarantee, the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey insist that the Treaty remain while the Greek Cypriots want it terminated”, he notes.
The report is divided into six chapters. The introduction describes the UN presence and efforts in Cyprus. “The Cyprus problem has been on the agenda of the Security Council for close to 47 years. The Secretary-General was first asked to use his good offices to seek out a durable solution in Cyprus in March 1964 (Security Council resolution 186 (1964). Since then successive Secretaries- General and their Special Advisors have undertaken efforts to assist the two sides to achieve a comprehensive settlement, including the intense yet unsuccessful efforts between 1999 and 2004”, he says.
The Secretary General gives, in the second chapter of the report, the background of the process, noting that “the current round of negotiations was initiated following the agreement of 21 March 2008 between the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Demetris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat.”
In the third chapter of the report, the Secretary General describes the status of the process. Ban breaks down the talks into three specific stages: the preparatory period, the first stage of the negotiation process (up to the elections in the north); and the second and most current stage, involving a new Turkish Cypriot leader. “If we include the preparatory period as an integral part of the current negotiations, the talks have now been ongoing for just over two and a half years”, he notes.
In his observations, that constitutes the fourth chapter of the Report, Ban notes that a guiding principle of these negotiations is that they are both “Cypriot-led” and “Cypriot-owned”, something that has been strongly supported by the United Nations in its words and actions. As such, he continues, “both leaders must necessarily take responsibility for the course of the talks, for their success or their failure. No-one else can do this. Cypriot leadership means that it is the leaders who must propel the process forward and defend it against those who would seek to derail it”.
The UN Secretary General stresses the consequences of the public statements made by the two leaders and the political leaders about the process. “Throughout the process, political leaders, both in government and opposition have accused the other side of undermining the talks. Occasional outbursts by the leaders about each other have not contributed to building public confidence in the leadership and the peace process”, he says.
Ban notes that unfortunately, “the only detailed information that the public has been given of the negotiations is as a result of selective leaking of texts through media. Not surprisingly, polls show the public in general would like to be better informed about what is happening in the talks and able to have more input into the process”.
He adds that leaving citizens largely in the dark until a comprehensive solution is more fully at hand is to potentially face an unprepared and unreceptive public at the time of the referenda.
“I have been very disappointed to see a steady stream of untruthful and highly negative remarks about the United Nations reflected in the media. This criticism and misinformation about the UN is most unfortunate. Efforts by opponents of a solution to undermine the UN’s credibility directly undermine the process itself”, he points out.
In the fifth chapter with his conclusions, Ban stresses that “now is the moment to dedicate all efforts to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion. Having stated their commitment to the shared goals of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, the leaders of Cyprus are expected to make good on their commitment to that outcome. I also urge all regional actors to contribute positively, wherever they can, to help bring these negotiations to a rapid and successful conclusion. The United Nations stands ready to maintain its enabling role of a Cypriot-led, Cypriot-owned process”.
At the same time, he points out that “the destiny of Cyprus is largely in the hands of the leaders of both communities. In the coming days and weeks, they will set the future course for the island and its citizens. It is their choice to make”, he adds.
In his recommendations that constitute the sixth chapter of the Report, Ban referred to his meeting with the leaders in January. At this time, the leaders should be fully prepared with a practical plan for overcoming the major remaining points of disagreement. I ask them to dedicate significant efforts to meeting this goal, he says.
In addition, he urges both leaders to carefully consider interactions with the press and to focus messages on convergences and the way ahead.
“While recognizing the confidential nature of the negotiations, I would encourage the leaders to step forward individually and jointly to deliver more constructive and harmonized messages”, he says, and stresses that parliamentarians and political actors on both sides should more consistently demonstrate their support for the negotiation process by allowing the two leaders adequate space to negotiate a potential settlement in good faith.
Finally, he says that the United Nations presence in Cyprus, comprising the Office of my Special Adviser, UNFICYP, UNDP and other UN agencies and programmes, has been operating in a distinct, yet coordinated and coherent manner to support the efforts of the two sides to find a comprehensive and durable settlement.
“In the coming months, I plan to conduct a broader assessment of the United Nations presence in Cyprus, with a view to recommend ways to adjust to ongoing developments”, Ban concludes in his report.