UN Security Council urges parties in the Cyprus peace talks to maintain the momentum

The Council was briefed on Monday by the UN Secretary General`s Special Adviser on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide and the UNSG`s Special Representative in Cyprus Elizabeth Spehar on the latest developments in the Cyprus problem, including the Conference on Cyprus held in Geneva on January 12.

Security Council President Olof Skoog read out to the media an unofficial statement agreed by all of SC members. Skoog said they had a very good discussion on Cyprus, citing “three elements that we have agreed on among the Council members.”

“First of all we’ve welcomed the progress made in the negotiations on a Cyprus settlement in recent months, as well as the convening of a Conference for Cyprus in Geneva this month which addressed security and guarantees for the first time,” he noted.

Secondly, he added, “the Security Council members have commended the steadfast and courageous leadership shown by both Cypriot leaders and the UN for the crucial support it continues to provide and reiterated the very strong support to the Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide and the Special Representative, Elizabeth Spehar, in their active role in facilitating discussions.”

“And finally, the members of the Council have reiterated their strong commitment to supporting the two sides in reaching a settlement deal, including the role of the UNFICYP mandate and we urge all parties to maintain the momentum and see the opportunity they now have to secure an historic agreement for a unified Cyprus,” he said.

On his part, Eide told journalists it is so important “that we have this unanimous Council behind us.” He added that “this is something that will bring with us back to Cyprus and it’s important for our work but more importantly, it’s a very strong encouragement to the leaders, to Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci who have really shown truly leadership all through these 20 months, but particularly so over the last months” during which it was agreed by both to present maps to each other on very similar percentages but also to agree to start the international Conference on Cyprus.

Referring to the issue of security and guarantees, Eide said, responding to a question, that “there are other mechanisms than the familiar ones which can assure that all Cypriots and both communities in Cyprus feel secure. And that’s what will be mostly our focus now and of course we continue to work with the sides in Cyprus, on domestic issues. There is now a new found will among all and I am happy to say that there seems to be a sense among all interested parties in looking for solutions that they can all live with.”

He noted that “they may not be exactly those that the people were seeking all those years but I think they will actually work. If I say more about this, then I would start revealing stuff that we have agreed not to talk about publicly, but I can say there is a constructive spirit surrounding these conversations.”

The UN diplomat noted that “the fact that the international conference on Cyprus has started marks step change, pivotal change in this process because until now it was negotiations between the two sides. Those of course continue because they are still issues they have to be solved but the conference is also now set on an international level which means that finally all issues are on the table, and all issues are on the table because we are in the final phase.”

He said that the three guarantors “are in direct contact now as we speak, because they are exchanging views and they are working with us to prepare the next phase.” He noted that “the guarantors and of course the European Union which is an interested party and observer to this come to this with a strong commitment to find solutions, not to find more problems. There have been enough problems in Cyprus and it is time to solve them, it is possible, it is in with reach and the Council is crucial and it is important that the Council is crucial in this respect.”

Eide said that “the starting position of the Greek and the Greek Cypriots sides is that the guarantee system should be terminated and the troops should leave”, and that “the starting position of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots is the opposite, the guarantees should be continued and the troops should stay.”

He noted that “we are already now in the setting where I feel I can say that now we are looking from a new eye, there are other mechanisms than the familiar ones which can assure that all Cypriots and both communities in Cyprus feel secure and all the connections to the international community and neighboring countries than those which have traditionally been seen that would fulfill the purpose of one without creating the uncertainty of the other.” Eide said this is not easy but there is will to find solutions.

Eide noted that “exactly how long this final phase will last we don’t know. I was able to brief the Council in some detail about the outcome of the second session of trying to identify the issues to be discussed and to lay out an inventory and potential answers to these questions and then how we are preparing for in the next weeks for reconvening the conference at political level.”

“This is really an opportunity that should not be missed because the alternative of course, a failure, is something that would be very negative in my view for Cyprus, for the Cypriots and for the regional setting.”

“And I was glad to hear that this was echoed throughout the fifteen members of the Council that there is an awareness of the very important time that we are now in”.

Asked if negotiations are open-ended, Eide said “there is the window of opportunity which is not extremely long. But on the other hand, if we set a date it means that come that date, then we don’t have a settlement everybody would say this has failed and they will think of alternatives which will be unpleasant to think about.”

“So we don’t want to say there is a specific date. But we don’t need that because my very strong sense is that not only the two sides in Cyprus but also the other players involved are aware that there is a momentum now that is probably at the best of times, the circumstances which the solution can be found and if is wasted it will be to everybody detriment.”

So, he explained, “it’s open ended in the sense that we don’t have a specific end date but if not open ended that we are going to do this for many, many more months or years to come. Because then it will be over and I’m actually convinced that this opportunity is gone and nobody knows when it will be recreated.”

Asked if the UN Security Council will have a direct role in the Cyprus conference from now, Eide said the Security Council is constantly involved. He added that the Security Council works with the General Assembly, the highest body of the UN, “so of course it is. And whatever comes out of this, it will be presented here because some of the follow up will have to happen at the level of the Security Council.” Moreover, he noted that the Security Council has been there, “before, during and after the conference” on Cyprus, which as he noted was set as a five parties conference, with an observer which is the EU.

On her part, Spehar noted “the importance of the unity of the Council on the Cyprus issue and the incredible support that they have always expressed to the two leaders, and the very important work and the remarkable progress that they’ve made thus far on the Cyprus negotiations.”

The Council, she said, “has for some time now been interested in how UNFICYP, how the UN is preparing on the ground and for contingency planning in the eventuality of a settlement. Of course the issue of implementation is about how Cypriots will eventually implement a deal, but we have been told clearly from the sides that they also would like strong UN support to help implement the deal,” she added.

“We’ve been encouraged by the Council to work in earnest in this issue and we will continue to do so but of course always guided by the continuing negotiations of the sides and some of the important issues that are still in need to agree on which we would have a bearing on the support we can provide, and then of course what the sides precisely ask us to do as UN,” she concluded.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory. Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustfa Akinci have been engaged in UN-led talks since May 2015 with a view to reunite the island under a federal roof.