October 20, 2017

Transcript of Media Encounter at Greentree Alexander Downer, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Cyprus

Secretary-General Meets Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Leaders at Greentree - UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks for coming along, as you know this is the fifth meeting of the Secretary-General with the two leaders.  During the discussions here today there has been a focus on three of the core issues in these negotiations:  first, the executive, second, property, and third, citizenship.

The Secretary-General has spent around six hours with the leaders including breakfast and through to the end of a working lunch and I think the best way to describe the talks today is that they have been intensive right from the very beginning.  After breakfast through to now this has been a very intensive day, with a very heavy focus on the three core issues and we obviously will be convening again tomorrow to continue with those discussions.

Since the Secretary-General left, Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs at the United Nations, and I, have been having further discussions with the two leaders and their teams, again focusing on these core issues.  There is clearly still ground to cover in order to make for a successful outcome for this meeting and we look forward to a constructive day tomorrow.

The Secretary-General made his expectations clear this morning that he is looking for the leaders to make decisive moves.  He also reminded the two leaders that they must keep the big vision of a United Cyprus in their sights.

In terms of the next steps, the Secretary-General will return tomorrow for a working lunch and then he will conduct meetings throughout the afternoon. So tomorrow he will spend another six hours or so with the leaders and their teams, and in the evening he will be taking the two leaders and their spouses to Manhattan for a social dinner.  As he did back in October, the Secretary-General will speak to you on Wednesday morning at the United Nations headquarters.

One other thing to say is that upon the invitation of the Secretary-General back in October, this time around the leaders brought their spouses with them to Greentree and I believe that Mrs. Christofias and Mrs. Eroğlu have enjoyed their time at Greentree so far.  They have been in the company of Mrs. Ban touring the local area and also enjoying the facilities of Greentree.

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Q.  Are you concerned that the Greek Cypriot leakages to the press are negatively affecting the process?

A.  I think what we really want here in these two days of negotiation is to focus on the core issues where there has not been convergence and every effort has to be put into that rather than into endless…I mean, I don’t want to be disrespectful and I am not disrespectful… I think the media plays an enormously important role in every society, but the leaders can’t be distracted by the media. The leaders and their teams have got to focus on these core issues to get the right outcomes on these issues. And so that’s what we are encouraging them to do, and to not get into commentary on the media.

Q.  Are the parties coming closer together on any of the core issues since yesterday or is there no change?

A.   I think it’s wrong to say there is no change. Obviously positions are explored and thought about and views exchanged.  There has been an enormous amount of discussion.  As I said, I think the word that is the best takeout of the day is “intense”.  There has been intense discussion on these issues and we hope as we move to tomorrow that the discussion of today will help create the foundation for convergences.  We will have to see, but I think that is the best way of putting it, and lots of different ideas have been canvassed backwards and forwards.

Q.   Before the leaders came here, both the Secretary-General and you have set some prerequisites in preparing outlines, offering data, etcetera. Were these prerequisites accomplished and how has this affected the outcome of this Greentree meeting?

A.  On the issue of data… data is being provided and that has been important.  That goes back to the time of the Secretary-General’s letter to the two leaders from the 6th of January and since the two leaders received the letters there has been the beginnings of an exchange of data and more data is being exchanged as we go through these two days.  With the outlines, we have obviously seen them, we have had discussions with the two sides about the outlines, we have done this in Nicosia and so I don’t think there has been any problem with any of this.  There is obviously a debate about how quickly the data has been provided, should it have been provided more quickly and earlier or shouldn’t it and with preconditions met, and so on.  You can have a debate about history but we don’t live in history, we live in the present and in the context of the present the data is being provided and that is obviously a significant part of the process.

Q.   What concrete solutions or outcomes are you planning to have after these two days?  Are you expecting to go for an international conference after this meeting here?

A.  Well, one thing at a time.  We have explained to you rather frankly that there are three core issues at stake here in these discussions at Greentree: the executive, that is, the presidency of a federal Cyprus, the issue of property and the issue of citizenship.   Now there have been, as I have said a couple of times, intense discussions about all three of these issues and there will continue to be (discussions) tomorrow. Obviously in an ideal world we would like to see convergences on all those issues and be able to move the whole process forward culminating in an international conference.  But to tell you the truth we will just have to see how we get on tomorrow before any judgments can be made by both the two sides and the Secretary-General, and all three of them working together on the way forward from here.
Q.   The Greek Cypriot National Council made decisions before these Greentree meetings laying out some preconditions that tie the hands of Mr. Christofias.  How can this be prevented and is some kind of progress expected by the 1st of July when the Greek Cypriots assume the EU presidency?

A.  I don’t think I want to get into any commentary on what may or may not have been said at the National Council meeting.  I have read newspaper reports, obviously, but no formal documentation has been forwarded to the United Nations about the National Council meeting.  I think it’s very important that the two leaders do make substantial progress and as you know the Greek Cypriots take over the presidency of the European Union on the 1st of July.  This will be a major responsibility for them.  I know the whole of the European Union, that’s 26 other countries including some very  big countries, will be looking to the Greek Cypriots, as we say in the context of these negotiations, to carry forward the presidency of the European Union. That will be a very heavy responsibility.  We need to try to aim to get this job done before then.

Q.    Why is territory absent from the agenda when it has been the UN’s position that some issues such as property and territory must be integrally discussed?

A.   It sounds a bit arcane to a lot of people, but the point about property and territory is that when these issues, if you like, of property are discussed there is always discussion about territory.  The Turkish Cypriot side’s position is that, in fact both sides have agreed to this, that the final question of maps and figures that is very specifically defining the territorial boundary between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot federated unitary constituent states will be decided in the period immediately in the lead-up to an international conference. But that is not to say that discussions of territory don’t ever cross the lips of any of the participants.  Of course there are discussions about property and territory and the relationship between them.  As far as the United Nations is concerned, there are no rules barring people from discussing things.  People can raise whatever they like.  Whether decisions will be made is another question.

Q.  Is Mr. Christofias more comfortable negotiating outside of Cyprus?

A.  That’s not such a good question to ask me because that’s really a question you need to put to him, not to me.  I don’t know the answer to that.

Q.   While it is early to say something about the outcome of the meeting, compared to the last time the leaders met here, do you feel more optimistic or pessimistic?

A.   The last meeting has come and gone so I know one hundred percent about it.  This one is only halfway done in terms of time, so there will be a lot of energy put into the next 24 hours.  I am not in the business of forecasting. Obviously what we do at the United Nations is urge the leaders to make agreements.  We cannot do it for them and it’s very important that people understand this.  We can’t want this agreement more than the two sides of this debate in Cyprus want it.  Sometimes I read that the UN wants to do this and the UN wants to do that as though we were an entity that for some reason or another wanted this more than the Cypriots themselves. Ultimately this is a matter for them. They have said throughout this process, since it began, that they wanted it to be Cypriot-owned and Cypriot-led.  We are not here therefore to own and to lead it, we are here to help.  The success or failure of this process rests on the shoulders of the Cypriot leaders themselves.   The longer this issue drags on the harder it is to solve.