UN Special Adviser on Cyprus Alexander Downer: Cautiously optimistic over Cyprus talks
New York, Sept 18 – The United Nations Secretary General Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, expressed cautious optimism about the course of negotiations in Cyprus.
While speaking at a press conference on Thursday at the UN headquarters in New York, Mr. Downer also said President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat are very committed to a successful outcome of the talks.
At the moment, he said, the two are talking about governance and power sharing and how the terms should all work.
“The UN is providing what assistance we can but ultimately this is a Cypriot driven process; it’s a negotiation between the two sides in Cyprus to create what the United Nations defines as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality, a single international personality and they’re negotiating to achieve that and I think, to be frank, I think the talks are going well,” he said.
He said the leaders are not revisiting the areas of convergence but looking at the areas of divergence. “And one of the areas of divergence they’ve been talking about is the aspects of the presidency. There is some convergence on the presidency and there are some areas of divergence. And what the two sides did at the meeting a week ago, it was put forward some new bridging proposals in an attempt to bridge the differences between the original positions they had in the first round.”
Mr. Downer acknowledged that it is going to be a difficult negotiation and “there is a lot at stake, I mean there is the future of the whole island which is at stake here. And for Cypriots, whether they are Turkish Cypriots or Greek Cypriots, they want to get the agreement right and they need it to be a sustainable agreement, one which will see them well into the future."
He underlined that what is necessary is “momentum, we need the leaders to put the agreement together. But, at the same time you know that they need to do it cautiously, and conscientiously and thoughtfully. And that’s all happening so I think we can be as I often say cautiously optimistic and that we will be successful.”
When asked about a meeting of the Secretary-General with both President Christofias and Mr. Talat, Mr. Downer said that “if the Secretary-General is to have a meeting with all three parties then I think that should happen when he can dedicate a really substantial amount of time to that meeting.” He also expressed hope that the UN Secretary-General will visit Cyprus, adding that “that would be of course an opportunity where he can really dedicate a good amount of time to negotiations.”
When asked if he feels optimistic, Mr. Downer said “I am cautiously optimistic and I want to explain this. I believe what you have here is two leaders who are very committed to a successful outcome. You don’t have two leaders who are just turning up there just for the sake and are not focusing on how to negotiate a successful bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality. You have two leaders who are turning up day by day, week by week and are determined to try to achieve that.”
He said the negotiations are complicated because “you have to put together the structure of the new federation, there are two constituent states or federated units, and the federal government, and those issues aren’t necessarily simple issues and that you have to deal in addition to that with a property issue, you have to deal with a security issue, you have to deal with the question of territory, you have to deal with the EU and then the economy.”
Downer also said that he is cautious because this has been a very long, drawn out process going back to the 1960 constitution, adding however, that President Christofias and Mr. Talat have the potential to get it right.
“I came into this job thinking we have new leaders here particularly on the Greek Cypriot side, you have a new leader. And you have a new process under way and we don’t want to do what was done in 2004 because that failed, so there is no point in going down the path of a failed strategy.”
Mr. Downer said he has not written a report, adding the participants have “asked us to come in to help them so naturally enough we talk about the Cyprus problem with the leaders and with other interested parties…But that’s not the same thing as saying we are imposing ourselves on them. We’ve been asked to help,” he said adding “we don’t want to be unhelpful. We don’t have some secret cunning plan that we’re going to impose on them.”
Mr. Downer also stated “the United Nations’ position is that the leaders should make up their minds what suits them best. We don’t try to force any particular opinion upon them”.
Regarding reports about leaked documents, Mr. Downer said he did not want to comment on allegations of documents being leaked.
The UN diplomat met with the Secretary-General on Thursday evening and had met earlier in the day with the Permanent Representatives of Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey at the UN.