17 September 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus


Ongoing peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders were progressing well, and while areas of divergence remained, there was cautious optimism that an agreement could be reached, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, said today.


During a press conference at Headquarters, Mr. Downer said the leaders, now in their second round of negotiations, had met again today and would soon intensify the process.  They planned to meet twice a week in October to discuss governance and power-sharing issues, with a view to creating a “bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality and a singular international personality”.  The United Nations’ role was to support the discussions.


The first round of talks, which concluded at the start of the summer, focused on identifying areas of convergence and divergence, he said.  The second round, by contrast, centred only on areas of difference, notably about the presidency, and had seen proposals put forward a week ago to “bridge” positions articulated in the first round.  The United Nations had been asked to support the process.


“We’re pleased with the progress that’s been made,” said Mr. Downer, who was in New York to brief the Secretary-General, Under-Secretaries-General and others about the situation.  While he would not make any forecasts, he looked forward to returning to Cyprus to continue the talks.


Asked if a breakthrough was in sight, Mr. Downer replied that negotiations, by definition, were difficult and there should be no expectation that the process would blow over in a week or two.  “The future of the island is at stake,” he said, and Cypriots, whether Turkish or Greek, wanted to get the agreement right.  Such an accord had to be sustainable, not cobbled together for the sake of a press conference.  While momentum varied slightly week to week, it had been good overall, and leaders now had to draw up an agreement cautiously and thoughtfully.  That was happening, he added.


Responding to a query about why the two leaders would meet separately with the Secretary-General, rather than together, Mr. Downer said first that he met regularly with the leaders as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser.  A meeting that involved all three parties should happen when the Secretary-General could dedicate a substantial amount of time and provide very real input.  As the General Assembly’s annual debate would begin next week, he would not have that kind of time.  However, Mr. Downer expressed hope that the Secretary-General would visit Cyprus.


Regarding the need for peacekeepers in Cyprus, Mr. Downer recalled that peacekeepers had been there since 1964, and that the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was the Organization’s second-longest running operation.  While there was indeed peace in Cyprus, they provided a backdrop to the negotiations.  It was important that the focus stayed on the talks succeeding, and not on anything that could undermine the confidence of the parties involved.


To a query on an expected timeline for the negotiations, he said the United Nations had never defined a point at which the talks must conclude.  They should proceed “as quickly as is practical” and maintain a good degree of momentum.  The pace was accelerating in the second phase, which was appropriate.  What made him cautiously optimistic was the fact that the two leaders were very committed to achieving a successful outcome.  They showed up –- week after week –- and were working to set up a structure for a new federation, create powers for a federal government and deal with complex property, security, territorial and economic issues.  That was inherently time-consuming, he added.


As for what could be done to help settle the issue, Mr. Downer said the global community supported a solution that envisioned Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality and a singular international personality.  However, not all Cypriots supported that particular path, and it could not be forced on them.  Cypriots themselves had to have the will to negotiate a successful solution.  The international community had high expectations, given the political commitment of the two leaders.


Asked whether international or European legal decisions were helping or discouraging the process, he replied that such decisions were part of the structure of Europe and the broader international community.  Negotiators would have to take them into account.  Things unexpectedly arose during any negotiation and the response was to deal with them, not complain.


Responding to a question about the biggest mistake of the past, he said that the Annan Plan [proposed by the former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan] had not worked and that three or four factors had led to its failure, including the death of former Cypriot President Nikolaou Papadopoulos.  The timing of the talks also played a part.  All negotiations on the Cyprus question would have common characteristics.  Today, there were new leaders and the United Nations was taking a different approach –- to assist, not arbitrate.


“I don’t think Cypriots want the United Nations to write the plan,” Mr. Downer added.  “I think they want to write their own history.”


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For information media • not an official record