United Nations.- By Apostolis Zoupaniotis
Special Advisor of the UN SG on Cyprus Alexander Downer expressed cautious optimism about the course of negotiations in Cyprus. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday at the UN headquarters in New York, Downer also said President of the Republic Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat are very committed to a successful outcome of the talks.
He told reporters that the two leaders following the first round of negotiations are intensifying the process by meeting twice a week and during October and then two consecutive weeks in October.
At the moment, he said, the two are talking about governance and power sharing and how that terms should all work.
The UN, he said, “are providing what assistance we can but ultimately this is a Cypriot driven process, itʼs a negotiation between the two sides in Cyprus to create what the United Nations defines as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality, a single international personality and theyʼre negotiating to achieve that and I think, to be frank, I think the talks are going well”.
Downer refrained from making any forecast about what will happen in the future.
Answering questions, Downer explained that in the first round the leaders identified their positions and there was “quite a lot of convergence” and “obviously some divergence as well”.
In the second round, he said, the leaders are not revisiting the areas of convergence but looking at the areas of divergence. “And one of the areas of divergence theyʼve been talking about is the aspects of the presidency. There is some convergence on the presidency and there are some areas of divergence. And what the two sides did at the meeting a week ago, it was put forward some new bridging proposals in an attempt to bridge the differences between the original positions they had in the first round”.
Downer acknowledged that it is going to be a difficult negotiation and “there is a lot at stake, I mean there is the future of the whole island which is at stake here. And for Cypriots, whether they are Turkish Cypriots or Greek Cypriots, they want to get the agreement right and they need it to be a sustainable agreement, one which will see them well into the future”.
He underlined that what is necessary is “momentum, we need the leaders to put the agreement together. But, at the same time you know that they need to do it cautiously, and conscientiously and thoughtfully. And thatʼs all happening so I think we can be as I often say cautiously optimistic and that we will be successful”.
Asked about a meeting of the Secretary General with both Christofias and Talat, Downer said that if the Secretary-General is to have a meeting with all three parties then I think that should happen when he can dedicate a really substantial amount of time to that meeting. He explained Ban Ki-moon is very focused on the issue and is very much looking forward to meeting the two leaders.
He also expressed hope that the UN chief will visit Cyprus, adding that “would be of course by definition, an opportunity where he can really dedicate a goodly amount of time to negotiations”.
Asked whether he is optimistic, Downer said “I am cautiously optimistic and I want to explain this. I believe what you have here is two leaders who are very committed to a successful outcome. You donʼt have two leaders who are just turning up there just for the sake and are not focusing on how to negotiate a successful bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality. You have two leaders who are turning up day by day, week by week and are determined to try to achieve that”.
He said the negotiation is complicated because not only you have to put together the structure of the new federation, there are two constituent states or federated units, the federal government, “and those issues arenʼt necessarily simple issues and that you have to deal in addition to that with a property issue, you have to deal with a security issue, you have to deal with the question of territory, you have to deal with the EU and then the economy”.
Downer also said that he is cautious because this has been a very long, long drawn out process going back to the 1960 constitution, adding however, that Christofias and Talat have the potential to get it right.
Regarding reports about leaked documents, Downer said he did not want to comment on allegations of documents being leaked. However, he said some people want to establish a hypothesis, which is that the UN wants to repeat the mistakes of the past of 2004. He underlined that he did not come into this job as a Special Advisor to the Secretary General to give the Secretary General the advice “that we should repeat the mistakes of the past. I came into this job thinking we have new leaders here particularly on the Greek Cypriot side, you have a new leader. And you have a new process under way and we donʼt want to do what was done in 2004 because that failed, so there is no point in going down the path of a failed strategy”.
Downer said he has not written a report, adding the participants have “asked us to come in to help them so naturally enough we talk about the Cyprus problem with the leaders and with other interested parties… But thatʼs not the same thing as saying we are imposing ourselves on them. Weʼve been asked to help”, he said adding “we donʼt want to be unhelpful. We donʼt have some secret cunning plan that weʼre going to impose on them”.
Downer also said “the United Nations position is that the leaders should make up their minds what suits them best. We donʼt try to force any particular opinion upon them”.
The UN diplomat met Ban on Thursday evening and earlier with the Permanent Representatives of Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey at the UN.