LONG PROCESS AHEAD IN CYPRUS TALKS, SAYS JAMES HOLGER
article is from the issue of January 21-27, 2000
of the newspaper "The Cyprus Weekly"
by Philippos Stylianou
James Holger first came to Cyprus in 1982, as Political Adviser to the Secretary-General's Special Representative Huggo Gobbi, and for many years afterwards filled a number of senior posts in the UN mission.
Between 1992 and 1997 he was Chilean Ambassador to Cyprus, interspersed with ambassadorial postings to New York and Moscow.
called back to the island last autumn, as the Secretary General's Acting Special Representative, after Dame Ann Hercus's surprise resignation., he will be handing over to Alvaro de Soto in April.
Although appearing more than ever encouraged by developments after Helsinki, his long experience of the problem makes him too cautious to be overly optimistic and he prefers to talk of a "very long process", in which targets are preferable to timetables.
To a question as to what part of the long process the proximity talks will play Mr. Holger gave the following answer:
JH: Well, there has been some speculation that there could be two rounds of proximity talks, after which we would be ready for the third round of direct talks. I wouldn't like to anticipate that outcome yet.
Let's wait and see how the talks in this second round evolve. I hope that during the third round we could have direct talks, I mean that's the ultimate objective, of course.
Q: You mean to say that, in the round after Geneva, we could have direct negotiations?
JH: I mean ideally, but if we don't we shouldn't come to any sombre conclusions. If the third round turns out to be another of proximity talks, that I think has to do with what I said earlier, that we are in for a slow process.
The important thing is to keep the momentum going, to move forward and in that respect several other measures are very important, which will strengthen that momentum, namely the so-called track-two diplomacy by communal contacts..
Laying practical emphasis on his words, Holger said that only the previous night he had an interesting conversation with the grandson of Dr. Kuchuk, who is involved on the Turkish Cypriot side with one of the contact groups, the Lordos Group.
Q: Of course efforts for intercommunal contacts have been made for sometime in the past, but they always stumbled on Denktash's insistence that every contact should portray his so-called state. Is there a new approach by the UN that could avoid, overcome or remove this obstacle?
JH: I know it has been a bumpy road, but I believe that, despite the difficulties that we have had in the past, the vehicles that are travelling on that road did not have to stop. Or if they had to stop, they stopped temporarily. And I think they are moving again.
And I think this has to do with what I personally perceive as some new encouraging signs in regard to overall efforts aimed at solving the problem. It has to do with new developments here in the area and more active involvement of countries that are helping the Secretary-General in his long overdue efforts.
As with efforts of rapprochement in other parts of the world, we hope that this will consolidate itself, because we are already seeing positive results. I know that there has been strong criticism in some quarters of these efforts and attribution of intentions, which I think do not correspond to existing realities.
I think the leaders, as in other countries, here also must be praised for their efforts. Mr. Denktash himself has made some positive statements. I'm seeing Mr. Denktash regularly, I think I have a good relationship with him, a relationship of respect and candour, when it is necessary. And in that respect, I think what happened in Helsinki is of historical significance, I hope I do not overstate the term.
Q: In your meetings with Denktash do you perceive that he now talks less of statehood and sovereignty?
JH: I wouldn't say that in those issues there has been a change of position. He has stated this position, we know what this position is. We, as United Nations, are at the receiving end of what the two sides do and say, we take note of those statements and positions.
I don't need to stress or to elaborate on the matter. You know what our mandate is. Our mandate is approved by the Security Council and the Secretary General has to operate within that mandate. At the same time, we are not in the business of closing doors on anyone, or on any issue that may be submitted to us.
I would like to clarify in this respect so that no one will interpret what I just told you as an expression of support on this debate of federation and confederation. Terminology sometimes is important, sometimes it is not. sometimes it is distorted, sometimes it is not..
Security Council resolutions are clear in that respect. If the international community should eventually in the future change course, well it is up to states to make that decision, not the Secretary-General.
Q: The Security Council's mandate, and therefore that of the Secretary General, is to have talks for a bi-zonal federal solution.
Q: The Turkish Foreign Minister in an interview to an Athens newspaper only last Sunday said that what is being discussed in the process of the proximity talks under UN auspices is the future relation of the "two states" that exist in Cyprus. With statements like this, especially after Helsinki, which expressly states that Turkey should contribute positively to the solution of the Cyprus problem, indeed during the current effort, what can one hope for?
JH: You know, in diplomacy statements are made to strengthen the position of one party or the other. Not that we should discard them.
But let me put it this way: these statements correspond to the positions expressed by one of the parties at the time when the Secretary-General was asked by the Security Council Resolution 1250 to convene talks at the end of last year with all issues at the table.
But I repeat, we are on the listening side. we are taking note of each and every statement or position made or taken by the parties and then it is up to us eventually as, I would say, part and parcel of the spirit and letter of the good offices mandate to accommodate the positions of the two sides.
But in accommodating the position of the two sides I repeat, and this is very important, we have a very clear-cut mandate, unless member states of the Security Council should decide to take another course.
That has not happened. Will it happen? I do not know.
Q: Has there been any talk of changing the Security Council mandate?
JH: Not that I know of.
Q: If I have understood correctly, during the second round the United Nations will work on the issues where there might be common ground and those where there are differences.
JH: On points of coincidence and points of equidistance, to use the language we employed in the early eighties, when I came in 1982 to work with Ambassador Gobbi.
Q: Only yesterday, the British Defence Minister who was in Athens, said that because of Denktash not moving away from his known positions, no progress is expected in Geneva, but something might happen later on.
And we know that Britain is very active in the Cyprus problem and therefore in a position to know what goes on.
JH: For diplomats a slow process in any negotiating exercise can be something natural and we are supposed to have the patience for that, but political leaders it is somewhat different. They have to respond to their electorate and sometimes progress, when it is taking place, is not as visible as spectacular moves which may occur and which really contribute to believe that solution, is round the corner.
Q: When is the third round due?
JH: First of all we don't know when it is going to take place. It may not be Geneva, it maybe New York or Vienna. I have no information. If I mention Viennait's because it's the other capital where there are UN offices and facilities and the Austrian government is always very keen on having UN meetings in its capital.
Q: In any case it will take place after the so-called elections in the occupied areas.
JH: That's the idea. Sometime in June,, but no decision has been taken either on the venue or the date.
Q: Geneva has been chosen for the second round because the Secretary General will be there. Will he be attending the talks throughout?
JH: The information that I have is that he will be opening the round and then de Soto will take over. Whether he will be coming back for the opening session from the Southeast Asia where he will be visiting at the time, I do not know.
Incidentally, de Soto will be coming here in April as the Secretary General's Special Representative. He is one of the UN's top diplomats in New York and has been with the UN for 20 years.
James Holger regards the placing of Alvaro de Soto at the Head of the Cyprus UN Mission as a very promising in the current effort, especially as he will be here in time to prepare the third round of the talks, which is regarded by all as very crucial.
* * * * *