The period ahead will be a crucial one for Cyprus, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday after a meeting with the island’s two leaders.
“Time is of the essence,” said Ban pledging that he and the United Nations would do their utmost to promote a successful outcome.
He said he had a productive meeting with the two leaders and they had discussed the state of play in the ongoing negotiations.
Ban commended both leaders “for their remarkable efforts to date, and for the progress achieved” and welcomed their joint commitment to intensify efforts even further, in line with their stated desire to achieve a comprehensive settlement in 2016.
“I encouraged both leaders to continue to engage in the process with determination, courage and creativity,” he said.
“They informed me that they intend to further intensify their negotiations upon their return to Cyprus. I urged them to make the most of this opportunity, in order to resolve their outstanding issues, without delay, in earnest.”
He said President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci had asked him to step up his personal engagement in the process.
“I stand ready to support them in whatever they may require, including on the international dimensions of the issue,” he said.
Anastasiades tweeted shortly after that he was “completely satisfied” from the meeting with the UNSG. “Our efforts for a solution will continue with the same determination,” he added.
Speaking at a news conference shortly after, the president made it clear there were no issues of timetables or arbitration, and that the process remained “Cypriot owned”.
The meeting with the secretary-general, he said provided an opportunity to present the progress to date and the existing differences that remained in certain chapters of the negotiations .
He said what had been agreed was that with their return to Cyprus, the two leaders would engage in intensive effort to achieve as soon as possible, if possible in 2016, “even if it is ambitious”, convergences that would lead to a solution “that will reunite the country and institutions and create prospects for a prosperous country, removed from the problems which we faced in the past”.
He reiterated that the leaders were determined to “work tirelessly” to achieve a solution that addresses the concerns of both communities, “a sustainable and lasting solution that respects the human rights of all Cypriots and does not require any dependencies on third parties,” he added in reference to guarantees.
Anastasiades and Akinci had asked for Ban’s personal engagement in moving ahead with the talks following an intensive period of negotiations.
While Anastasiades met separately with Ban last week, the UN chief held a meeting with Akinci late Saturday Cyprus time, ahead of the joint meeting.
According to a UN readout, the secretary-general, during the 20-minute meeting with Akinci welcomed the significant progress achieved by the two leaders in the past year as well as their joint statement issued on September 14, which requested his personal engagement moving forward.
“He [Ban] was encouraged by the determination and commitment demonstrated by the two leaders as well as the atmosphere of mutual trust, determination and goodwill in and surrounding the talks,” the UN said.
Progress has been made across many of the chapters on the table but differences remain on all. Property, territory, security and guarantees remain the toughest issues where both sides have drawn red lines on various aspects.
Speaking to journalists after meeting Ban Akinci said it was time to create peace for future generations in Cyprus and stressed that when it came to security, empathy was the key word. He also warned of “risks” if the negotiations carried on into 2017.
He said he had exchanged views with Ban and talked about the unique progress that has been reached so far and how that could be transformed “into a success story” by road-mapping the way in the few months ahead.
“Of course important for both communities in Cyprus to get good results,” he said.
“I hope that today’s meeting will be very important for us because the long-awaited final solution is to shed light on ways to move to a settlement of a 50-year-old problem.”
Akinci said the secretary-general said he would assist the two leaders in any way he could and had reaffirmed his personal commitment.
“It is in the interest of all parties to reach a solution as soon as possible in Cyprus,” said Akinci. “The secretary-general tells us he is ready to take the time to give every support to this process. Therefore, I would like to hope that we leave today in a positive climate after today’s meeting.”
Some of the risks Akicni sees going into 2017 are the departure of Ban as UN chief, a change in the White House, hydrocarbons exploration by the Greek Cypriots, and presidential election campaigning in the south ahead of 2018.
On guarantees and security, Akinci said the guarantor powers – Greece, Turkey and Britain – were talking to each other sincerely on that aspect. The Greek Cypriots see no need for guarantees, which was reiterated by Anastasiades on Friday.
Akinci said Turkish Cypriots wanted the continuation of Ankara’s guarantee and said the issue needed to be viewed sensibly by both sides. Neither one should see the security measures of the other as a threat to themselves, he said, adding that it was a delicate balance “so that everyone can feel safe”.
“We need security, but our security should not be a threat to the other community. The key word ’empathy’, trying to understand the feelings of the other side … I’m trying to do this as much as possible…” Akinci said.
During a speech at a gathering of the diaspora in the US on Friday night, Anastasiades said Greek Cypriots could not accept guarantees and foreign armies in Cyprus, and if such pending issues could not be addressed it would not be possible to reach a solution.
Anastasiades said that in addition to progress there was also stagnation in the negotiations.
“There are problems that if not resolved means it might not be possible to arrive at an acceptable solution, which meets the concerns of the Greek Cypriots,” he said. “What we seek is to achieve a solution which respects the rights of all Cypriots in a way that does not create winners or losers.”
He said everyone needed to understand that the Turkish Cypriot community would have security through the new structures of the new state that will evolve from a solution.
A bizonal federation would create the conditions for each community to have an administration, but the central state would have power that could not be ignored.
“So I do not see why some should insist that Turkey continue to maintain even a minimum number of troops and how it should have guarantee rights,” he said.
“In a modern European state it cannot be expected that European citizens would want others to guarantee them. It must be understood by all those involved and wanting to help solve the Cyprus problem, that the Cyprus issue should not be exploited to accommodate wider interests.”