Highlights of Press Conference by Alvaro de Soto
Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus
held at Palais des Nations
November 1 2000


Alvaro de Soto, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, said his meetings with the leaders of the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots were starting this afternoon and lasting through 10 November.

He had spent a week on the island to prepare for these talks. The Secretary-General himself was not here today, but he was expected next week. This was a continuous process, with breaks as necessary, and he did not view them as rounds of talks or sessions. He had asked public opinion through the media to consider that this was a process that was likely to take a while and he had appealed for patience.

Mr. de Soto said he was not expecting spectacular results this month. He did not expect to be able to announce major breakthroughs. As the media could see, he was trying to play down expectations and he hoped journalists would help him. There was a very good reason for this. The issues were extremely difficult, they had not gotten any easier over the years of the United Nations involvement. In some ways, they had become more difficult. The parties were very far apart on some key issues. For this reason, the UN had chosen as a method to advance simultaneously on all issues. There did not seem to be an agreement in sight between the parties as to which issues should be dealt with first, let alone as to the order of the consideration of the issues. So they were obliged to advance on all of them pari passu. Another rule under which they operated was that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. If those two rules - which were not imposed by the United Nations but rather flowed from the logic of the talks as they were framed - were combined, journalists would see why he had said no major breakthroughs should be expected as the talks went along, let alone as a result of the next 10 days of talks.

The method adopted was one of proximity talks. There was no prospect just now of face-to-face meetings. This meant that the traditional style of give and take did not present itself here. It meant that the parties would have to rely on the UN's capacity to provide them with ideas and substantive inputs in order to urge them along. They had been receiving such inputs for some time already. But starting with the talks that were held in New York in September, he felt confident that the substance was being engaged in a way in which it had not been before. He was confident this would continue. This unfortunately did not redound in a necessarily positive atmosphere or an improvement in the climate of the relations between the two parties and their public statements. This of course was not a desirable state of affairs.

The arrangements remained the same, Mr. de Soto said. The parties would meet with him separately at times which would be announced as they went along. As usual, the UN was asking the parties to remain silent as to the substance, the procedure and the agenda of the talks, all of which if discussed publicly would be bad for the progress of the talks.

A journalist said he seemed more pessimistic than the last time, and asked if he was giving the parties any time limit. In response, Mr. de Soto said that it would not be accurate to describe him either as optimistic or pessimistic. The United Nations thought that there was an opportunity afforded by the improvement in relations between Greece and Turkey, and other events, such as decisions taken by the European Union, that should help the talks along. These factors did not exist before. But he was trying to caution against any expectation that there would be spectacular results in the near future. They were aiming for something very ambitious: a comprehensive settlement that was fair and viable. On the second question, the UN was not setting any time limits. Both parties were conscious of the fact that there were opportunities that existed now, and that they would not wait forever.

Asked if the talks were taking up from where he left them, if his visit to Cyprus had brought any positive developments, and why he thought the situation was difficult, Mr. de Soto said that in response to the last question, he found that some positions on some key questions related to the Cypriot settlement had become more entrenched. The parties, perhaps regrettably, had made public the fact that some gaps had broadened. But he believed that this was compensated by the new opportunities that were offered by the rather concrete rapprochement that had not been there for quite some time. Also the turning of sights towards Europe was providing incentives for this process to be more successful. The talks were picking up where they had left them.

A journalist said that as a result of the news blackout on the talks, the people did not know how their future was being formed. She wondered if this was democratic. Mr. de Soto said that unless she was advocating a gladiatorial system, they were as close as possible to solving the problem democratically. The people should trust their leaders. The parties, while defending the interests of their people by being fully aware of their concerns and their fears, should prepare their people for the necessity of give and take.

Asked if he was giving the parties hints about what the others were prepared to accept, or had objections to, Mr. de Soto said he had been doing that for some time, but he stopped short of formally becoming a conduit for the exchange of proposals between one side and the other.

A journalist said that British and American envoys would be on the sidelines of the talks and wondered if a Russian envoy would be attending. He also wondered if a Camp David style meeting could happen soon. Mr. de Soto said he believed that a Russian envoy would be present, as were envoys from a number of other countries. He did not see any early prospect of face-to-face talks and the parties would have to rely on the proximity talks for the foreseeable future.

Asked if the blackout was to conceal that the talks were not getting anywhere, and whether the Secretary-General's presence in Geneva would give added impetus to the talks, Mr. de Soto said they were aiming for a comprehensive settlement that contained agreements systematically organized on a number of issues that had to be addressed and solved between the parties: territory, security, governance, and property. It should also provide for a verification mechanism and a calendar of implementation. This ambitious goal, by the sheer bulk of it, would take quite some time to achieve. So far, the Secretary-General had been present every time that they had met. The fact that the Secretary-General was coming to Geneva should not be interpreted as a special event, rather it was a permanent signal of the importance that he attached to this question.

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