By Stefanos Evripidou in Geneva
Thursday’s international conference on security and guarantees in Geneva will be “historic”, whatever the outcome, said UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide yesterday.
“It is the first time in this process that the guarantor powers (will) have actually met with the Cypriots to discuss this very contentious, traditionally very difficult issue… basically the entire security setup that will surround a settlement in Cyprus,” he said.
Eide noted that the guarantor powers have been talking to each other repeatedly over the last months, weeks and days, as well as with himself and new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who has spent more than half his first 11 days in office dealing with the Cyprus problem.
The guarantor powers agreed to convene at the foreign ministers’ level and then see how things develop in the hours and days that follow, he said. The heads of state and government of Turkey, Greece and the UK have been “positively engaged” in the process and could still come in at some point to help close an agreement or sign one.
Speaking to the press on the third day of Cypriot-led talks in Geneva, Eide said he did not expect to get a breakthrough on Thursday, when the guarantor powers, top EU officials and two Cypriot leaders talk shop over one of the most emotive and critical issues in the Cyprus problem. But he was eager to get a “good start” on the discussion.
He further noted that the quality of brainstorming session between the two Cypriot leaders on security and guarantees was the best that he had ever heard on that particular topic in the Cyprus talks.
“I think the reason is that people are now actually preparing for this… and that means you have to go from your traditional opening position to actually start looking for ways to solve it,” he said.
Regarding the internal aspects of a solution, Eide said many “difficult issues” have been solved in the first three days of talks, including the question of amendments to the federal constitution in the governance chapter.
The UN official defended the pace of the peace talks and their effectiveness.
Following the morning’s “productive” session on governance and property, Eide said: “We are on track. We have dealt with some of the most difficult issues. We have touched upon almost all of them. We have solved many of them, and we are close to resolving some other issues.”
He repeated the view given earlier in the week that the whole point of coming to Geneva was to tackle tough issues that could not be resolved over 20 months of talks, but which “could only be dealt with as a part of the end game”.
“That is what we are trying to do,” he said, adding “hard work” was still needed to reach the finish line.
He praised the determination, will and leadership of the two leaders, who despite the many obstacles they are facing, remain committed to solving the Cyprus problem together.
Eide further highlighted the “historic moment” which took place last night when the two sides exchanged territorial maps for the first time. “Never before have we had an exchange or presentation of maps created by the Cypriot delegations themselves,” he said, speaking before the exchange actually took place.
The issue was highly charged due to the “historical” and “emotional trauma” of those who have lived with the loss of property for decades, as well as those who have lived in those same properties for 42 years after being displaced themselves.
Asked to comment on whether this was the “last chance” for a solution, the Norwegian preferred to call it the “best chance”, adding that he could not see anything that would suggest the chance would get any better by waiting months, years or decades, as has been tried before.
Asked what he expected from the time spent in Geneva, Eide replied that he would like to see the Cypriots overcome all the outstanding internal issues and agree with the guarantor powers and other interested powers (a likely reference to the EU) what the framework security arrangement for the island will be.
People should not expect the leaders to be flying home with a comprehensive settlement ready, he said. That would take some time, as even with full political agreement, work on the constitutional text, other details, and on implementation was still needed. Only when all that is ready can the leaders set a date for a referendum, he added.
Asked whether there were thoughts to arrange another conference to conclude on issues that could not be resolved in Geneva, Eide said the preference would be for this conference to take its time and to get as much as possible out of it.
Asked about the implementation of the EU’s basic freedoms in a reunified Cyprus, he said: “What we are doing is we are reunifying a country, which as a united federal republic would be a full member of the EU and in full compliance with the principles enshrined in the EU.”
Lastly, Eide thanked the international institutions (IMF, World Bank, ECB, EBRD and European Commission) for helping to ensure that the EU and economy chapters were not only agreed but in such a way that “what we are creating is actually a viable, well functional federation with fiscal discipline”.
An understanding also exists on how a federation can come about without creating new unnecessary costs, like a bloated public service, for instance.