Highlights of Press Conference
by Alvaro de Soto
Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Cyprus


8 February 2000

Alvaro de Soto, Under Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, said he was pleased to report that the process that began in December in New York and continued recently in Geneva was on track.The parties had accepted the Secretary-General's invitation to resume the proximity talks, in principle on 23 May next in New York. He said a total of 14 meetings, that was 7 with each party, were held in a proximity format which had allowed the various issues to be addressed in an exploratory way. He recalled that the aim of the current stage of the process was to prepare the ground for meanignful negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement.

Mr. de Soto emphasized that the Geneva round did not involve negotiation as such. Both parties worked with the United Nations, first with the Secretary-General on Monday of last week, and then with himself, as his representative, in a constructive manner in exploring in greater depth the range of issues. He said he would have hoped that both parties had observed the press blackout, as had been requested by the Secretary-General, and as he mentioned on Friday before last, at the outset of the process. Nevertheles, he said what was most important was what the parties said inside the room where the proximity talks were held rather than outside. It almost went without saying that because of the format of the talks, which had not yet involved telling each side what went on with the other, the only authoritative statements that could be made regarding what was going on in those talks were those made by the United Nations. Because of the spirit of confidentiality of the talks, which was essential to their success, the UN was not saying very much about substance.

About whether he solely listened to the two parties or if he had made proposals, Mr. de Soto said he would like to maintain his position not to reveal what actually went on in the talks. He said that more than merely listening, he had asked many questions, he explored and probed with the view to prepare the ground, so that when negotiations actually would begin, he would be on a higher ground and some of the basic work would have been done.

A correspondence asked if there was hope to bring the two parties together for the next round of talks in New York . Mr. de Soto said the parties had agreed to come to come to New York for proximity talks. Should the parties agree to change the format, that was something that could be contemplated, but it was not foreseen for now.

Asked if his optimism was less than at his previous press conference, Mr. de Soto said any impressions that he was optimistic just as any impression some might have derived that he was pessimistic--was entirely subjective. He said he did not think that he had said any thing that revealed his attitude or his forecast. He noted that the talks were on track, and if that was thought to be a cause for optimism, so be it. He recalled that as the secretary-General reiterated on Monday before last, the UN believed that there were factors external to cyprus, notably the improvement of the climate of relations between Greece and Turkey, which would give ground for hope. He said that the hope was that this improvement would be reflected in the proximity talks.

A journalist aked if there was any progress on any areas, be it confidence-building measures or other crucial sticking points. Mr. de Soto said he could not say anything on those issues. He was also asked to elaborate on the external factors, how he hoped to time the parallel processes of the rapprochement between turkey and Greece, European Union relations with Turkey, and the implications on Cyprus. He said both Greece and Turkey, because of their relationship with the Cypriots, and because of their role in terms of guarantors of the treaties that accompanied the creation of Cyprus as a State, had an important role to play. The UN was in close contact with them and would remain so, and that was part of the efffort to try to make sure that all those who had a contribution to make would make it and would so in a positive way.

Asked if he intended to visit Cyprus, Mr. de Soto said he would go to Cyprus next month and that would be his first visit. It would be a momentous occasion and an honour for him to visit Cyprus. He said he needed to be in touch with and to be briefed by the UN operation in Cyprus. He had a lot of learning to do on the ground and he would be intouch with the parties. He noted however that the purpose of his visit was not to continue the proximity talks.

Asked by a correspondent if the views expressed by Mr. Denktash on not holding direct talks were unsurmountable obstacles, Mr. de Soto said that direct talks were one way of negotiating, but there were many cases of succesful negotiations that were conducted indirectly, so that one should not iconize the concept of direct negotiations. He thought that the process should lead to meaningful negotiations, but he did not want to pre-judge what format they would take.

Asked about the contribution to the negotiations on the side lines by Sir David Hannay and US Ambassador Alfred Moses , Mr. de Soto recalled that Greece and Turkey were not the only guarantors but also the United Kingdom. The United States and the United Kingdom, as well as other countries, collaborated with the Secreatry-General in several ways, including through their intellectual advice and diplomatice assistance. The Secretary-General viewed them as "friends" in that process, a term of art in international negotiations of the last ten or twelve years. He viewed them as distinguished members of an array of "friends of the Secretary-General" that assisted in finding solutions to the problems of Cyprus.

Asked about political equality, Mr. de Soto said that notion of political equality in the context of the efforts to solve the problem of Cyprus was enshrined in a variety of documents of the UN and it was contained in several of the Secretay-General's reports. The challenge was how to translate that notion into a comprehensive settlement together with a variety of other issues.

A correspondent asked whether the "war of statements" by the representatives of the parties had discouraged him. Mr. de Soto said that it did not change the course of the process.

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