December 18, 2017

Remarks to the Press by Alvaro de Soto after his first visit to Cyprus ended

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus Alvaro de Soto, paid his first visit to Cyprus since his appointment last year, in the first week of March during which he had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the two communities, he visited the Greek Cypriot enclaved in the occupied area and the UN peacekeeping force in Nicosia.

Before the departure from Cyprus Mr. De Soto met with representatives of the press and answered their question. Mr. De Soto expressed the view that the international circumstances are in place to reach a settlement to the protracted Cyprus problem, but noted that the sides involved must be willing to compromise. He said the UN is conducting the new round of talks with Security Council resolutions indicating the path.

Replying to the possibility of face-to-face talks between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides taking place, the UN envoy said this is not the only way to conduct negotiations and underlined the importance of negotiations being meaningful when they begin so as to lead to a comprehensive settlement. He also said that confidence building measures are not under discussion even though there is an ample choice of such measures that could be made by the two sides.

Invited to elaborate, he said December’s European Union Helsinki summit, which gave Turkey a candidate status and confirmed Cyprus can join its ranks even if a settlement is not reached, as well as rapprochement between Greece and Turkey “are central to the goal of achieving a Cyprus settlement. Besides that, what is clear, is that we now have been encouraged in sequence by the G8 and subsequently by the Security Council and the actual process is underway, but noted that “the external circumstances are perhaps more favorable than they have been in memory.”

The UN chief’s special adviser for Cyprus recalled that two rounds of proximity talks between the two sides have already taken place and another is scheduled to begin in New York on May 23, noting that “if things are going well and if all concerned are cooperating with the effort underway we can look toward a process that will continue to move forward in a sustained and hopefully predictable way.” He pointed out that this process “has the clear support of the international community” and that foreign governments “are urging this along,” in the belief that “the time has come to move towards a comprehensive settlement.”

Asked if there is a possibility of face-to-face negotiations taking place in the third round of proximity talks, he recalled that the UN chief has invited the two parties to proximity talks to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement. He said face-to-face is one but not the only way of conducting negotiations, noting that “the important thing is that the negotiations when they begin will be meaningful and will do in fact lead to a comprehensive settlement.”

De Soto refrained from predicting when direct talks could start, but expressed the hope “we can get to meaningful negotiations at a very early date, we need to move on” noting this should be as soon as possible and when circumstances are ripe.”

Asked if he is trying to bring the two sides together on the basis of principles or simply getting a compromise, he said “for a representative of the Secretary General of the UN to divest himself from principles would not be acceptable. We do try to conduct these talks with certain goals in mind, the Security Council resolutions, including those in particular of June of last year and more recently, have indicated the path but ultimately of course it is in the hands of the parties and we cannot persuade them to accept what they refuse to accept,” de Soto said. Invited to assess the contribution of the two leaders to the process underway, he said “it is and will be crucial in determining the success of this process. Without such cooperation we will not succeed but I hope to be able to count on it.”

Replying to a question on the need for confidence building measures, de Soto said “there is an ample choice of such measures which can be made by the two sides directly or indirectly.” However, he made it clear that “in the proximity talks the Secretary-General has expressed the wish that the two sides should concentrate on those issues that must be part of a comprehensive settlement. This implies, and I can confirm it, that we are not raising such measures.” Asked what he has learnt during his eight-day stay in Cyprus, de Soto said he has achieved “a much deeper, broader understanding of the situation on the island,” noting that even though bitterness and differences may linger “one detects the wish to solve the problem once and for all.” In his opening statement, De Soto described the fact that Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot journalists covered some of his visits as “a positive sign” and expressed the hope “such crossings will continue.”