UNSG Alexander Downer Sees Satisfactory Momentum in Cyprus Talks
Nicosia, May 28 - Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General on Cyprus Alexander Downer said on Thursday that the momentum in talks between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus for a settlement of the island's political problem is not spectacular but is not worryingly slow, adding that if the momentum is maintained at a satisfactory rate, a comprehensive agreement can be reached.
Regarding any changes in the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Mr. Downer said there was no proposal at this stage for the Security Council to change the mandate of UNFICYP, and that in the event of a comprehensive settlement; the Force's role might go through some sort of change.
Speaking after Thursday's meeting between the leaders of the two communities, namely President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, Mr. Downer said “the two leaders met in a tête-à-tête session for about an hour and a half and had a very friendly discussion, they report,” noting that “of course, nobody else was there but they report it was a very friendly and relaxed discussion.”
“There was some further discussion on the economy, some work was done during the tête-à-tête meetings by the representatives and other officials on moving forward towards convergences on some aspects of the economy,” he noted.
He pointed out that “the leaders thought it would be a good idea to focus on this again next week and next week's meeting will be on Wednesday instead of Thursday, Wednesday at 10:00 am, and that will be the last meeting that will discuss the economy” and that “the leaders will then move on to another topic and we will explain what that topic will be next week but not this week.”
Replying to questions, Mr. Downer said “we don't set strict timetables and I think to set any timetable could make the negotiations a bit more difficult rather than easier.”
“The economic chapter is quite, not so much contentious, but quite long. There is a lot of material to deal with. As you can imagine, talking about running a modern economy in a federal structure or in any structure requires a fair bit of work and a fair bit of contemplation, so that is taking a bit of time. Then they will move to another topic and they should be able to move through the next two or three topics reasonably quickly and then they will move to the second stage, where they will come back and have a look at some of the areas in the chapters that have been points of disagreement and then of course, having done that, they will eventually get to the final stage,” he said.
Mr. Downer expressed the view that “things are moving in a positive direction” and noted that “it is important to focus here on momentum.”
“Momentum varies, you know. When there was some disagreement last week on the question of Limnitis that slows momentum a bit. On the other hand, the atmosphere today, the discussions today put some new pace back into that momentum so we have had a much better atmosphere today. So I think the momentum is there. The momentum is satisfactory. It is not spectacular but it is not worryingly slow,” he pointed out.
He said that, “if we can keep the momentum going at a satisfactory rate, we can still, as I keep saying, to admittedly many doubters, and I appreciate there are many doubters, but that this job can be done and that a comprehensive agreement can be reached.”
“I took up this job with cautious optimism and several months later, as I am well into this job, I know quite a lot about it now, I know a lot of people and some of them I know very well, I remain cautiously optimistic,” he added.
Asked if he believed a change in the mandate of UNFICYP is warranted, Mr. Downer said he did not think there was any proposal at this stage for the Security Council to change the mandate of UNFICYP, “on the basis of information I have from New York on the draft resolution.”
“There is no proposal for a significant change to the mandate but I always say on these matters it is something that we, at our level, leave to the Security Council. The Secretary General is not a member of the Security Council. The Security Council is the decision-maker on these matters and that is something they have been talking about, every six months, for 45 years, so I don't think anything is terribly different this time,” he added.
To other questions, Mr. Downer said UNFICYP is “working fine” and noted that, “what will happen if there is a comprehensive agreement in terms of UNFICYP is one of the things, obviously, that the Security Council will have to contemplate, should that arise, should my cautious optimism prove to be justified.”
“Then obviously the whole question of how UNFICYP would be structured and its role would have to be reconsidered in that context. That is something I am sure the leaders would want to talk about at a later stage but all of the members of the Security Council and the two sides here would see a comprehensive settlement leading to some different role, perhaps, for UNFICYP. Of course, if you had a comprehensive settlement, the situation would be somewhat different, somewhat better, somewhat more positive and so UNFICYP's role might in those circumstances go through some sort of change,” he said.
He added however that “nobody has made any decision about that and I am not making any predictions about what sort of change might be contemplated at that stage.”
“The UN always makes a series of contingency plans so that whatever decisions the Security Council makes, it is able to respond with reasonable speed to those decisions,” he noted.
Replying to questions, Mr. Downer said “we don't know what would be required of UNFICYP in the event of a comprehensive agreement” and that, “in previous exercises, where attempts have been made to produce a comprehensive settlement here, there have been ideas of how UNFICYP's role could be changed, but in this particular case there has been no discussion about that.”
“What the UN does, in particular what the department of peacekeeping operations does is very understandably make sure that they have the capacity to respond, at least within a reasonable period of time, to what might be the best option for Cyprus in the event of there being a comprehensive settlement. One just doesn't know and I shouldn't speculate on how such a settlement may change the structure of UNFICYP,” he added.