All parties at the Conference on Cyprus on 7 July had seen a final deal which they “all could have lived with”, UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide said in an interview with Cyprus News Agency in New York earlier this week.
Although Eide will meet the two Cypriot community leaders separately on Monday, he wanted to try and set the record straight on what happened on the final evening of the conference before UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, reading the negative mood in the room at a stormy dinner meeting, decided to close the conference.
“We were approaching 2:30 at night [Swiss time]. It was a very long dinner. He [Guterres] said that after what he heard during this dinner he didn’t see any prospect in continuing the conference… given the mood that had developed. He asked the participants if they agreed and they did agree. It was a very special dinner. What I can tell you is that everybody in the room understood that this wasn’t going anywhere. The deterioration of mutual trust was obvious… The climate, the tone, the way people spoke about each other and to each other didn’t sound like people that were about to unify their homeland,” said Eide.
The UN official report said that the talks were ended because of a “collective failure”, however, Eide rebutted criticism from the Greek Cypriot side made after Crans-Montana, that he had been unprepared.
“If I say it’s a collective failure I must say that includes everybody who was there. If something fails, everyone should think what should I have done to make it better, rather than running and say everybody else made the mistakes. I must say I felt we were very well prepared,” said Eide.
“This idea that we weren’t prepared is little paradoxical. I have been hearing since I came that this is leader-led and it’s owned by them and we are just facilitating. I fully subscribed to that. If someone was unprepared, maybe it’s the people who were in charge, not the people that were just helping them?”
The UN envoy said many things reported in the press about what happened at the last dinner in Crans-Montana were “simply wrong”.
“I have to keep some things confidential. What I can tell you is that the SG didn’t misunderstand anything. We were in the same meetings and it was quite clear what was happening. Out of the various bi–laterals we saw the possibility of arriving that night at the final total package; a total package with many elements in it, one of which would have been the end of guarantees,”
He said the parties had all made some written proposals and but they also had said certain things to Guterres who was “testing the limits of every participant”, their red lines and their flexibility.
Regarding statements that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had refused to put his reported offer to end guarantees in writing, when asked to do so by his Greek counterpart Nicos Kotzias, Eide said: “This is not exactly what happened. Some of what I have read that purportedly refers to that dinner is simply wrong. So let me say this: On these highly sensitive issues, the Secretary-General, myself and members of my team were in many bilateral meetings, testing out the frontiers of people’s views, including, of course, Turkey in order to see if a final package was available that we thought the others will accept. So, what the Secretary General said in this dinner was based on these conversations and it wasn’t wrong,” he said.
Explaining about negotiating in such circumstances, Eide said not everything is based on proposals put in writing.
He said the UN’s firm and continuing belief was that, in that overall reading, it would be possible – based on many factors – to see an end to the guarantees system.
Eide said Turkey’s official position was that the guarantees should be phased out after a number of years and this view was well known to all.
“But beyond that, the Secretary-General and I, when we were testing everybody’s flexibility, understood that as a contribution to a final package it would actually be possible for all to agree on an immediate termination of the rights of intervention upon entry into force – but of course only if there was agreement also on the rest of the final package,” he said.
“What we were not yet able to say was that we had the final answer to the longevity of the troop presence. It was clear the troops would be reduced and it was also clear that when they were reduced it would be down to the old levels. But between “sunset clause” review and perpetuity, we didn’t have yet the final agreement. So, we were moving towards a major breakthrough on guarantees, but we still had the outstanding issues on the troops. Let me be clear: There was agreement about the fact that their number after reduction would be very low, but the time they would stay wasn’t yet agreed.”
He said they were heading towards an agreement on no guarantees. “We could have done it that night. That’s clear,” he added.
The blame game which followed is very unhealthy and “turns complicated issues into banalities”, said Eide.
He noted that the leaders had abstained from this for a full 18 months during their negotiations, which started in May 2015, even though there were those in political circles, on both sides, who were endlessly blaming everybody else.
Around winter time last year, the mood changed, he said, and each side began to question the other’s intentions “and from then on I felt that this was becoming increasingly difficult”. I was sometimes criticised about being too optimistic in Cyprus. Maybe I was! Now I haven’t been optimistic for half a year – to be frank – and you will not find a single very optimistic statement from me in 2017,” Eide said. “Maybe it was because we were losing momentum. These processes have their time, if time is not well spent, it might be lost,” he added.
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