Conference by Alvaro de Soto
Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Cyprus
UN Headquarters, September 26, 2000
Introductory statement by Alvaro de Soto
As you know, the parties have been meeting since 12 September in new York and the Secretary-General few minutes ago just had consecutive wrap up sessions with the two leaders, Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash. He reminded them of course, among other things, of the blackout which he would like to be observed and he would like to continue observing and I will come back to this question and he also recalled the Security Council mandate under which he operates and which he wishes observed - that there are no preconditions, all issues on the table, there should be a good faith commitment to continue until a comprehensive settlement is reached and that full consideration shall be given to all relevant S-C resolutions. He invited them to meet again for proximity talks in Geneva from one to ten November inclusive. The S-G will be in Geneva during this time himself. He has also asked me to go to the island in October to continue consultations. I hope to visit Ankara and Athens and visit possibly also other European stops.
It is fair to say, that a qualitative step forward has taken place during the last two weeks, and the two sides had engaged in the substance in a way they have not before. To that extent we are encouraged unless this be interpreted as a premature “peace at hand statement”, let me haste to say that we are not blaring trumpets or breaking out champagne. There’s still a long way to go and we must take a long view, I have said this before. Progress, particularly in the proximity format is hard to report on, it is even hard to measure. Do not expect here today or in the future announcements of breakthroughs as we go along. The progress is more likely to be incremental rather than in leaps and bounds, at least for the present. But the process has moved to a new level on which we hoped to build in the coming months.
Having said, this it’s hard not to notice a certain nervousness in some quarters. This has to do with transgressions of the blackout and also with the fact that we are beginning to break new ground and this has to do with the fact that what we are aiming at is not a new framework or retreat of the Set of Ideas but rather a comprehensive settlement. Previous attempts and frameworks have left a lot of ground unfilled and have left a lot of lacunae. We need to fill those lacunae and this in a process that has such a long history and background is something that is obviously somewhat disquieting .
Now a further word about the transgressions of the blackout. They are due in part to the misuse of bits of paper that have appeared here and there. Now I am not going to insult your intelligence by denying any role or authorship in any papers that some of you might have come by. We have intensified our input of ideas to the parties and we intend to do so in Geneva in November. But sometimes for ease of understanding I will even allow my notes to be looked at, but readers should not be misled by notes of what I say to the parties at the meetings. They do not constitute formal proposals in any way and it would be wrong to try to see or read in to such bits of paper or snapshot of a process which is by definition a moving target . We will continue to give ideas to the two sides as I say in our effort to reach the ambitious goal of a comprehensive settlement but please what you and other readers, particularly the Cypriot public, see, of the only authoritative version you are ever going to get of what goes on and what is emerging is from the United Nations, from the S-G or from me. So having said this, by way of an introduction, I can take some questions.
Questions and answers:
Question: For a long time the Turkish and Greek Cypriots are at loggerheads. The Turks are adamant to have the final solution as a confederation, on the other side the Greeks propose a federal state. Does UN, you or S-G have a third option? Second part of my question, is the S-G going to put in his report to be submitted to the UN his declaration on the 12th of September?
de Soto: On the first point, I will answer on the side as it were. One of the rules of thumb that we follow is that we try not to attribute labels or terminology that is associated with the position of one side or the other. This is simply to facilitate progress. We don’t want to put the highest hurdles at the beginning but work toward them gradually. We want to look for solutions from the bottom up rather than starting with a label which only tends to complicate matters. That is one of the items that might lead to confusion upon reading of these bits of paper which may or may not be ours. We sometimes use tentative stop gap terms that are not necessarily binding. So we will come to the point that you have referred to but we will continue to approach it in the gradual way by dealing with the essence of the question rather than how it will be labeled at the appropriate time. On the second question you have raised, we have really not had time to even think about the contents of the S-G report, forthcoming to the report to the Security Council which is due on the 1st of December. We will address that matter then.
Question: Have you given any ideas or suggestions to the leaders to be considered until the next round talks? Secondly, how close are the two sides to each other in order to have a common ground?
de Soto: On your first question, we are constantly putting forward ideas and this is likely to be intensified as we go along. On the second question, I would hesitate to try to characterize progress in building a common ground beyond what I have already said, in which I made my words with great care using a pharmacists instruments.
Question: At which point are we right now… Somehow we need to know – everybody needs to know – how we proceed on this matter?
de Soto: You are obviously newcomer to this process. Your colleagues are more used to this… which doesn’t mean that they are necessarily happy with. There is unfortunately a certain tension between your desire to report and the need to maintain the negotiating process confidential. And at least for the present, we must try to keep it confidential. As you might have seen, we are not always successful in this and I hope that you would accept that there is a desirability to do this if the negotiations are going to succeed. They are not helped at all by leaks, they are not helped at all by fragmentary leaks and opinions voiced on the basis of bits and pieces. Let me assure you that the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots have leading the negotiations two world class negotiators, with accumulated experience of the best, if not better than the best. A certain amount of trust should be deposited in them. But I don’t know of any negotiations that have succeeded out in the open.
Question: Do you find that the gap between the two sides is smaller now, and the second question, what happens to the ideas that have been rejected? Are they withdrawn, wiped out or they still remain on the table?
de Soto: All issues are on the table. As to your other comments, I don’t want to eliminate any possibility. On the question of Cyprus, there are few wheels to be invented, and it is still possible on given issues sometimes to trot out an old wheel which may not have worked before, but which in a new and different concept will be able to roll.
Question: Mr. de Soto, you referred, if I’m not mistaken, in your open remarks, to a qualitative step forward which has taken place. Would you please be more specific and qualify that phrase?
de Soto: No.
Question: You repeatedly said in your remarks that you are aiming at a comprehensive settlement, and your input of ideas will continue during the next round. Are you thinking of preparing a package of ideas which you will present to the two sides? How do you intend to get to a comprehensive settlement?
de Soto: A comprehensive settlement is a very ambitious goal, because it means not only that all areas have to be covered on core issues, but many secondary issues also have to be covered… to leave nothing if possible to be negotiated once there is an agreement and the leaders have signed on the dot of line. In fact, you even want to have a calendar of implementation, or possibly several different interlocking calendars for the different parts of the comprehensive settlement. So putting forward something like that in a very short time is rather difficult to do. I don’t want to rule in or out anything that we might do in the future. On that I’m afraid I still have to keep the confidentiality.
Question: Would that be a helpful move, as far as you are concerned, if you were to sit down and work out something – like what you have just described?
de Soto: I would not care to speculate out loud, particularly on such a move.
Question: On your remarks on the need for confidentiality… as a result of certain leaks and statements by the interlocutors themselves… Mr. Clerides said yesterday that some of the proposals violate Security Council resolutions and therefore he rejected them. Would you like to comment on that, particularly as a result of the furor that it has created in Cyprus?
de Soto: I don’t recall having seen any statement by Mr. Clerides to that effect. In any case, I wouldn’t want to comment on that, only to say that the Secretary-General is observing his mandate in the best way that he sees fit. And that mandate, as I recalled earlier, allows for all issues to be put on the table and for no preconditions, for good faith negotiations to the end and for full consideration to be given to all relevant Security Council resolutions. There is no change on that.
Question: To what extent would you say that Cyprus’ accession negotiations have either hindered or helped the work that has been done in the proximity talks?
de Soto: I would not care to speculate on that.
Question: Has the issue of the Cyprus’ accession course (to the EU) come up, and the fact that whatever solution may be agreed upon should be compatible with the EU norms?
de Soto: I think that I have referred to this issue in general terms in the past. The fact that there are certain processes ongoing for the European Union, is a fact that must be reckoned with. The EU obviously has an important role to play within its sphere and we are in contact with them in order to ensure that there is no clash with the goals within the UN process. But that’s as far as I would go.
Question: Obviously both sides have reported to the press and to the people, and when they go back to Cyprus they will announce what was discussed. Don’t you think that the UN has a responsibility also in acknowledging this….
de Soto: I’m comforted by the fact that there are no conclusions as such that can be announced – and certainly not unilaterally by one or the other side. Let the word go out, please, that we have no conclusions to report publicly at this time. All I can say in addition, and perhaps to qualify what I have said a moment ago, is that there has been full engagement by both sides on all issues that are on the table. And to that extent we are happy with how things are going.
Question: Just a final comment on the blackout. I’m sure that my colleagues here will be joining me when I say that this blackout is not only working but it is working against your intended aim because the sides selectively break the blackout and they decide what to say, when to say, or what not to say. So there is a manipulation of the news…
de Soto: I understand the problem. This is something that we are reflecting on. It’s obviously not working to our satisfaction, which means that it is working to the detriment of the cause of a comprehensive settlement on Cyprus. And let those who leak know, please, that they are not helping this process. But I do not believe – at least not as of now – that the answer to the problems is full disclosure of what is going on, or my beginning to tell you what happened at such and such meeting… and going on into substance and saying what the positions of the parties were. That would be considerably worse.
Question: Could you not brief the press on a background or unofficial basis every two or three days rather than letting the situation continue?
de Soto: As I said, this is something that we are reflecting on. We are aware of the problem. I don’t want to rule out the possibility that you are suggesting now, though it would create practical difficulties because there are only just so many hours in a day and there is quite consuming work that we are involved in.
Question: Could you say that the blackout was raised during the meeting of the Secretary-General with the two leaders in any way?
de Soto: Yes, I said that right in the beginning.
Question: The statement of the Secretary-General of 12 September regarding the two political entities is still a fact of the negotiations? What is the status of the statement?
de Soto: That was the statement of the Secretary-General. It’s not something for negotiation. And it stands as a statement of the Secretary-General, period.
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