United Nations.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
The belief that while there is no official timeline for the Cyprus negotiations, there is a real unique window of opportunity for the process to finally succeed is expressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his Good Offices report. The Secretary General believes firmly that the months ahead remain crucial, if the sides are to achieve the key and tough compromises necessary to reach a comprehensive settlement, as soon as possible.
An advance copy of the seven page report was submitted last night to the members of the Security Council.
In the conclusions of the report, the Secretary General stresses that in order to move forward, the sides need to reach further convergences on outstanding issues across chapters, particularly on property.
“I am also confident that progress achieved on property would lead to increased readiness by both sides to engage in substantive negotiations on territory and security and guarantees, given that there is an understanding that in-depth negotiations on these issues would take place towards the final stages of the process.”
Ban underlines that there is no room for complacency, as substantial work remains ahead. However, he is convinced that the settlement is today closer than ever and he calls on the leaders “to maintain the momentum as the talks are well into the substantive phase in which core issues across chapters are being considered.”
The UN SG encourages the leaders to continue to negotiate these issues with good faith, political will, leadership and mutual trust.
“I believe that an agreement is within reach and I trust that the leaders and all Cypriots will do their utmost at this crucial time to grasp the current opportunity and to finally translate the vision of a united Cyprus into a reality.
Diplomatic sources describe the Good Offices report as very careful and well written, focusing on the facts without offering details and at the same time presenting a positive outlook for the negotiations, by praising the efforts of the two leaders and pointing the positive reaction of the public opinion in both communities.
“Since 15 May 2015, the talks have maintained a steady pace and, while a great deal of work remains, the progress achieved on many issues has been encouraging and unprecedented. As shown also in recent polling, there is growing expectation among public opinion in both communities that the overall positive atmosphere at the negotiation table and the constructive personal relationship between the leaders and their negotiating teams will indeed lead the process to its ultimate objective of reaching a comprehensive and durable settlement”, the Secretary General says in his observations.
Secretary Ban is particularly heartened by the fact that the sides have engaged in the negotiations with a problem-solving approach. He notes that the leaders have shown that, while each negotiates in the interests of his own community, they have equally been able to take into consideration the concerns of the other community, in order to reach a settlement that meets the best interests of all citizens of a future, united Cyprus.
After stating the fundamental principle of the negotiations that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the SG clarifies that the sides have been able to reach further convergences and mutual understandings.
“In particular, I note that the leaders have taken positive steps toward translating their common vision of a united Cyprus into concrete progress and strategic compromises on a number of key issues. While it is clear that important, further work remains, I am encouraged by the openness and collaborative spirit, which has characterized the engagement of the sides during the reporting period and by their common recognition of the need to grasp the current momentum and positive climate surrounding the process to move it forward.”
In particular, the Secretary General commends both leaders for their ongoing efforts to refrain from engaging in a blame game; and he encourages them to continue to use key opportunities to communicate jointly to the public in a constructive and coordinated manner, as they have already done on several occasions.
He offers as examples of the leaders’ efforts, the joint statement issued on 18 of November – following the incident two days earlier in which Turkish Cypriots had been targeted during protests – and the recorded New Year’s greetings, in which they expressed speaking in both languages, their shared wish to see the country united in the course of 2016.
Ban ki-Moon is encouraged by various steps taken for the greater participation of the women in the negotiations, while he noted the technical assistance the leaders seek in order to address post-settlement economic issues. He also mentions the visits of various financial institutions, including the IMF and the World Bank.
“I believe that this rather innovative work will be important to ensure that a solution will be economically and fiscally viable while also creating opportunities for economic growth and stability in a post-settlement phase”, the report says.
Speaking about the three guarantor powers he says that remarkably, “Greece, the United Kingdom and Turkey have, despite heavy domestic agendas and other increasingly difficult pressing issues relating to dealing with the refugee and migration crisis in Europe, shown firm and steady commitment throughout the period to supporting the efforts to reach a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus issue in the foreseeable future.”
He reiterates the full engagement of the United Nations in supporting the efforts of the two sides to find a comprehensive settlement and he underlines the cooperation between UNFICYP and the Office of the Good Offices Mission.
“In light of positive developments on the ground, my good offices mission has maintained close coordination with UNFICYP as the latter intensified its planning in relation to a settlement, as requested by the Security Council, most recently in resolution 2234 (2015). This planning will continue to be guided by developments in the negotiations and the views of the sides on a possible role of the United Nations in this respect.”
The report covers events that took place from 15 May 2015 to 22 December 2015 and it clarifies that the negotiations proceed on the basis of relevant Security Council resolutions as well as the Joint Declaration of 11 February 2014. He also states that the leaders agreed that the negotiations would be leader-led and “they have since engaged in results-oriented and structured talks on core issues across chapters.”
During the reporting period 19 meetings between the two leaders and 62 of their negotiators took place.
“Through such intensive and steady engagement, the sides have made considerable progress on many topics related to the chapter of governance and power-sharing, including the federal legislature, federal judiciary, federal competences, internal aspects of security, to name a few, as well as issues related to citizenship. They have also held extensive and productive negotiations on the economy chapter and have repeatedly reiterated their common vision to negotiate a settlement that will be in line with European Union principles. In addition, in a welcome development, the sides have agreed to increase the engagement in the process, under United Nations aegis, of several other international actors, including the European Union and international financial institutions.”
Ban mentions the announcement of the two leaders on 30 October 2015, to engage in an intensified phase of the talks during November and December, in which they would take an even more direct role in the negotiations with the purpose of seeking mutually beneficial solutions on issues where divergences remained, focusing particularly on the key chapter of property.
“This work built on the agreement reached and announced by the leaders on 27 July 2015 that the individual’s right to property would be respected and that there would be different alternatives for the regulation of the exercise of this right. The leaders also agreed that dispossessed owners and current users would have various choices regarding their claims to affected properties, including compensation, exchange and reinstatement and that these would be subject to agreed criteria. Following the initial understandings reached on these key and other aspects of the property chapter, the sides have been steadily working to formulate the criteria to be applied to determine the various remedies mentioned above.”
On the issue of security and guarantees, the Secretary General reports that the leaders have reiterated their understanding that, due to its international dimension, it would be discussed at a later stage in the process.
“Given the recent intensified period of negotiations, however, it is my Special Adviser’s increasing sense from both sides that they are ready to start discussing these issues. “
Ban Ki-Moon mentions Espen Barth Eide’s engagement on a regular basis with various regional actors, including the three Guarantor Powers, for which he says that they have repeatedly stated that “the current window of opportunity for a solution of the Cyprus question should not be missed.”
He names as a prominent feature of the current round of talks, the agreement between the sides to enable the European Union (EU) to play an enhanced role in the peace process, under United Nations auspices and this has resulted in several developments; i.e. the sides reached an agreement on 3 October 2015 to set up the Bi-communal Ad Hoc Committee on EU Preparation, to help prepare for the implementation of EU acquis communautaire in a future Turkish Cypriot constituent state; Pieter Van Nuffel, the Personal Representative of the President of the European Commission to the Office of the Special Advisor (OSASG), is now fully engaged in Cyprus, together with a small team; over the reporting period, the European Commission held a series of workshops for Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot officials, which were conducted under UN auspices, involving expert officials specialized in different areas of the EU acquis.
The Secretary General offers some information on the work of the various working groups of experts as well as technical committees and he presents the leaders’ agreement to work together on a number of confidence-building measures that would mutually benefit the two communities, as a sign of their shared commitment.
“The sides have since been working on the implementation of such confidence building measures”, says the report.
Reporting on his personal efforts in support of the process, Ban Ki-moon says that he continued to keep the resolution of the Cyprus question high on the agenda of the United Nations, as well as on the agenda of key regional and international leaders. He mentioned the various discussions he has held with Heads of State and senior officials, including the President, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey and the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece. Also the visits to Cyprus of the Foreign Ministers of the Permanent Members of the Security Council and the FM of Germany and the meetings they had with Espen Barth Eide.
“During the discussions and contacts with all foreign actors, my Special Adviser has tirelessly continued to emphasize the significance of united international support”, he says.
The Secretary General expresses optimism about the prospects of the negotiations, stressing the positive effect that it will play for the region.
“At a time characterized by extreme political volatility and with a geo-political situation where societies are ripped apart and in which violence is ever growing, the negotiations to solve this long-standing conflict offer a beacon of hope. The manner in which the leaders and their negotiators have engaged across the table, showing political will, leadership and increasing mutual trust, is an encouraging reminder that through real dialogue and mutual efforts even the most entrenched conflicts can be resolved through a negotiated solution.”