UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide attempted to set the record straight on the failure of the Cyprus talks in Crans-Montana in an interview with the Cyprus News Agency published on Saturday, saying all of the parties involved could see what a final deal looked like and they “all could have lived with it”.
Though Eide, who will meet separately with the two leaders on Monday, made some comments following his briefing to the UN Security Council earlier in the week, this was the first indepth interview he has given after the talks’ collapse in the early hours of July 7.
In the interview, he offered some insights into the fated dinner on July 6 when after four hours of haggling and drama, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a halt to the process.
“We were approaching 2:30 at night [Swiss time]. It was a very long dinner. He [Guterres] said that after what he heard during this dinner he didn’t see any prospect in continuing the conference… given the mood that had developed. He asked the participants if they agreed and they did agree. It was a very special dinner. What I can tell you is that everybody in the room understood that this wasn’t going anywhere. The deterioration of mutual trust was obvious… The climate, the tone, the way people spoke about each other and to each other didn’t sound like people that were about to unify their homeland,” said Eide.
In its official statements, the UN put the talks’ collapse down to a “collective failure” but in the CNA interview, Eide hit back at criticism from the Greek Cypriot side made in the wake of Crans-Montana, that he had been unprepared.
“If I say it’s a collective failure I must say that includes everybody who was there. If something fails, everyone should think what should I have done to make it better, rather than running and say everybody else made the mistakes. I must say I felt we were very well prepared,” said Eide.
“This idea that we weren’t prepared is little paradoxical. I have been hearing since I came that this is leader-led and it’s owned by them and we are just facilitating. I fully subscribed to that. If someone was unprepared, maybe it’s the people who were in charge, not the people that were just helping them?
The UN envoy said many things he has read about what happened at the last dinner in Crans-Montana were “simply wrong”.
Reports, based on accounts from the Greek Cypriot side were that Guterres had misunderstood the content of a private conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Crans-Montana about Ankara’s willingness to ditch the guarantees system from the first day. However, when he was asked at the dinner if he had made the offer and if so to put it in writing, he refused and denied he had made it.
Others close to the talks had said that when the Turkish offer was made, President Nicos Anastasiades insisted on his zero troops and zero guarantees red line. The president later said there had been a miscommunication between Guterres and Cavusoglu.
“It is difficult to talk about confidential conversations,” Eide said when asked about the details of the exchanges.
“I have to keep some things confidential. What I can tell you is that the SG didn’t misunderstand anything. We were in the same meetings and it was quite clear what was happening. Out of the various bilaterals we saw the possibility of arriving that night at the final total package; a total package with many elements in it, one of which would have been the end of guarantees,” he said.
Pressed on the issue of it not having been put in writing, Eide said it would have been written down by the UN after agreeing among the heads of delegation. He said the parties had all some written proposals and but they also had certain things they had said to Guterres who was “testing the limits of every participant”, their red lines and their flexibility.
On the statements that Cavusoglu had replied in the negative when asked about the Turkish offer, Eide said: “This is not exactly what happened. Some of what I have read that purportedly refers to that dinner is simply wrong. So let me say this: In these high sensitive issues the SG, myself and members of my team were in many bilateral meetings, testing out the frontiers of people’s views, including of course Turkey in order to see if a final package was available that we thought the others will accept. So, what the Secretary General said in this dinner was based on these conversations and it wasn’t wrong,” he said.
Laying out the mechanics of negotiating in such circumstances, Eide said not everything is based on written inputs.
He said the UN’s firm conviction was, and remained, that in that overall reading it would be possible – based on many factors – to see an end to the system of guarantees.
Eide said Turkey`s official position was that the guarantees should be phased out after a number of years and this view was well known to all.
“But beyond that, the Secretary-General and I, when we were testing everybody’s flexibility, understood that as a contribution to a final package it would actually be possible for all to agree on an immediate termination of the rights of intervention upon entry into force – but of course only if there was agreement also on the rest of the final package,” he said
“What we were not yet able to say was that we had the final answer to the longevity of the troop presence. It was clear the troops would be reduced and it was also clear that when they were reduced it would be down to the old levels. But between “sunset clause” review and perpetuity, we didn’t have yet the final agreement. So, we were moving towards a major breakthrough on guarantees, but we still had the outstanding issues on the troops. Let me be clear: There was agreement about the fact that their number after reduction would be very low, but the time they would stay wasn’t yet agreed.”
He said things were moving towards a situation of no guarantees. “We could have done it that night. That’s clear,” he added.
Eide said the ensuing blame game, or any blame game was very unhealthy and “turns complicated issues into banalities”.
He spoke about how the leaders had refrained from this for a full 18 months during their negotiations that began in May 2015 even though certain people in political circles on both sides were blaming everybody else all the time.
But sometime around winter last year that changed, he said, and public statements started questioning each other’s intentions, “and from then on I felt that this was becoming increasingly difficult”. “I was sometimes criticised about being too optimistic in Cyprus. Maybe I was! Now I haven’t been optimistic for half a year – to be frank – and you will not find a single very optimistic statement from me in 2017,” Eide said. “Maybe it was because we were losing momentum. These processes have their time, if time is not well spent, it might be lost,” he added.
Eide said it had been his conviction from the start that the Treaty of Guarantees and the right of intervention “had to end immediately”.
“We had many – many bilaterals, we were shuttling between the guarantors developing many concrete ideas of security and guarantees and I can tell you now that from early on it was my conviction that the Treaty of Guarantees and the right of intervention had to end immediately. There is no place for that in a modern sovereign state.”
Troops was something else. “It’s a choice in the sense whether you want a military presence. But those troops that came in 1974, in the exercise of the so-called right of intervention – which is of course itself contested – they are no longer warranted in the post-settlement situation, because in the Turkish argument – with which the Greek Cypriots don’t agree – they were there to restore the constitutional order. If you have a settlement there is really a constitutional order, so that argument is gone,” he said.
He said the idea was to develop a security concept where troops would be quickly reduced down to that level that was in the Treaty of Alliance and also back to the purpose of the Treaty of Alliance, which we could have been renamed a ‘Friendship Pact’, where there would be a limited number of troops for some time without any role in the internal matters. Eide said the security concerns of the Turkish Cypriots were on a community level, and those of the Greek Cypriots on state level.
Asked why Guterres had called a halt, Eide said he made the decision after he “read the room”. “At this critical, final moment, a deal would only materialise as a package where all managed to get what was most important for them while helping others to get what most mattered to them too,” he said.
The UN envoy said there had been some very important and very constructive openings also from the Greek Cypriot side on the internal front “in context” or “subject to” other achievements and not as stand-alone offers “which makes sense”.
Eide said Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci had taken the process way beyond what’s seen before and “we could start again “tomorrow morning if it was up to the UN”. But his sense was that this was not the case right now for parties. He said he would find out more when he meets them this week “what they want to do next”.
“I must say, despite the sad outcome of the Conference, I was very impressed by both leaders and their negotiating teams and everything they achieved underway – in a truly leader-led process,” Eide said.
UN was seeking a Strategic breakthrough on six issues
The UN envoy said they had not expected to “come down from the mountain with the full agreement” but were hoping and aiming for was to have a strategic breakthrough on six strategic issues. These were:
How do we replace the Treaty of Guarantees with an implementation mechanism?
What do we do with the troops?
Will there be rotating presidency and whether it will be with cross voting and so on..
What will happen to “one particular place” in the territorial arrangement?
What happens to the property regime? Could there be two regimes, one for the areas under territorial adjustment and one for those not under territorial adjustment?
How do we deal with the question of the equivalent or special treatment of the Turkish nationals?
“If we had answered these questions, we could have been beyond the point of no return,” he said. “The Secretary-General’s main contribution in Crans-Montana was to say that, these six things can all be solved here, but only in the form of a package. The tragedy of this is that what prevented the solution was not what could have been the final outcome, but the inability to get to that that final outcome. I think I know what the final deal would have looked like. I think Nikos Anastasiades knows and I think Mustafa Akinci knows and Mr Cavusoglu and Mr Kotzias know what the final outcome would have looked like; and my subjective view is that all could have lived with it. But we couldn’t get there, because we were struggling with how to sequence things in a way that could make all this work. And this makes me sad.”
The CNA interview was conducted by Apostolis Zoupaniotis in New York