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No open-ended engagement in Cyprus, says top UN envoy
2003-05-21 09:24:37

Nicosia, May 21 (CNA) -- The UN Secretary General is very reluctant to reengage in an open-ended way in the question of Cyprus unless there is a clear framework, his special adviser Alvaro de Soto has said, pointing out that any attempt to start reopening trade offs between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot sides would have no end to it.

In an interview with CNA, Alvaro de Soto, who had conducted lengthy and arduous peace talks here, warned against starting peace talks from scratch, saying that the end result would not be much different than a plan Kofi Annan has presented the two sides on a comprehensive settlement.

De Soto indicated that the Annan plan could be revived in spite of protestations by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who rejects the plan outright and describes it as dead and buried.

The UN envoy also said that he has not been assigned other duties by the Secretary General but is busy with a couple of other issues. However, he stressed that he follows developments in Cyprus and said he would he willing to return to the island once there is an agreement by the parties to reengage in negotiations to conclude a peace deal.

Asked to outline what exactly the Secretary General would want the two sides to do, beyond verbal declarations for talks, he said ''we would like to bring them back to where they were at The Hague,'', noting that President Tassos Papadopoulos had agreed to continue negotiations with a view to finalising an agreement on the basis of SG plan and he was also prepared not to reopen the plan itself as long as the Turkish Cypriot side did the same.

''If Denktash could bring himself to do the same, which is to agree not to reopen the plan and accept it as a basis to finalise negotiations, and if he got the backing of Turkey, and we already know Greece supports this, we would really have a basis to resume the talks and for the SG to lend his assistance again,'' he explained.|

This, Alvaro de Soto stressed, would have to be with a view to ''actually come to a conclusion with UN assistance within a reasonable period of time in order to come back to the people through separate simultaneous referenda.''

''What the Secretary General was saying is that it would not be useful for him to become reengaged in an open ended way without a clear framework, what we are saying is let us make sure that a framework exists and it has the backing of all sides and then we can go back to the effort and do it,'' he added.

Asked how feasible it is to get the two sides reengaged, given their stated positions, the UN diplomat said Papadopoulos' position continues to be as it was at The Hague and ''that is all right.''

On Denktash's positions, Alvaro de Soto said that the Turkish Cypriot leader maintains that the plan is dead.

''Well perhaps it is, but it is dead in the way that Lazarus was dead or the Phoenix was dead, I think in these matters, matters of diplomacy, usually reports of the death of one approach or another are somewhat premature and I would argue that even if the two sides were to start from scratch the negotiations, an unlikely hypothesis, but even if they were to do so, I think that the end result of the negotiations would be not too different than the kind of plan the SG,'' he explained.

The Secretary General, de Soto pointed out, ''is very reluctant to become reengage in open ended exercise.''

However, he noted that if it is accepted that there is a basis and a framework within which to operate, then Annan would be happy to help.

Asked if the framework would take into account May 2004 (when Cyprus joins the European Union), he expressed hope that it would not be necessary to wait that long.

He said there are certain things with regard to the Annan plan that for obvious reasons need to be changed, certain dates, technical aspects that may have to be looked at again.

''You start reopening the fundamental trade offs and the key principles and there would be no end to it, that is why the Secretary General is asking to accept the basis on which they had both agreed to negotiate even before that fateful night in The Hague,'' he told CNA.

Replying to questions, he said it may be a bit premature to consider coming back to Cyprus but he would be delighted to return once there is an agreement to negotiate.

Invited to comment on announcements by Turkish premier offering travel to Turkey to Greek Cypriots, de Soto said that ''anything that contributes to communications and travel and freedom of contact between all parties concerned is, as a general rule, a positive thing.''

On press reports that he has been assigned other duties which take him away from Cyprus, de Soto denied the Secretary General had assigned him other duties.

''I have not been assigned other duties by the Secretary General but it could happen, and I do do one or two other things that I am not at liberty to discuss but I continue to follow the Cyprus question,'' he added.

De Soto worked on the island heading a team of legal experts for more than a year. He produced what has been described as the most comprehensive peace proposal on a political settlement covering all aspects of the problem which he presented to the two sides.

Denktash rejected the proposal at talks in The Hague in March and President Papadopoulos said it was a basis for negotiation.

In his report to the Security Council Annan said Denktash ''bears prime responsibility'' for the failure of his latest effort to bring about a political settlement and noted that the Turkish Cypriot leader ''by and large declined to engage in negotiations on the basis of give and take.''

Turkish troops have been occupying 37 per cent of Cyprus territory since 1974, in violation of repeated UN resolutions calling for their withdrawal.

CNA MM/GP/2003

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