11 April 2003

Failure of UN Plan to Solve Cyprus Problem "Deeply Disappointing" Special Adviser Alvaro de Soto Tells Security Council

Briefs Council on Secretary-General's More Than Three-Year Effort; Propitious Circumstances, Fair Plan, and "Unique Opportunity Missed"

NEW YORK, 10 April (UN Headquarters) -- The failure to reach a solution of the Cyprus problem was deeply disappointing, Alvaro de Soto, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, told the Security Council this morning, and it seemed attributable to failings of political will, rather than to the absence of favourable circumstances.

On 10 and 11 March, talks between parties in The Hague, The Netherlands, on a comprehensive settlement on the Cyprus problem based on a United Nations plan broke down. That plan required a referendum among both Greek and Turkish Cypriots to approve the Secretary-General's proposals and reunify Cyprus before 16 April, the day on which the accession treaty to the European Union was to be signed.

Briefing the Council on the Secretary-General's report on efforts made between late 1999 and 11 March 2003 to assist the two sides in achieving a settlement, Mr. De Soto said the Cyprus problem was the oldest item continually on the Secretary-General's peacemaking agenda. It was difficult to see a set of circumstances for achieving a settlement as propitious as that which had prevailed in the last three and a half years. The Secretary-General had been deeply involved in the effort, with the strong support of the Council. A fair and honourable package, comprehensive in approach and only needing technical finalization, had been on the table.

Obviously, he continued, when decisions had to be made, the crisis in Iraq loomed large and made it difficult, particularly for Turkey, to take the bold decisions and bring the necessary influence to bear in order to achieve a settlement. "Be that as it may", he said, "a unique opportunity had been missed and the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots had been denied the opportunity to vote to reunite Cyprus". The immediate losers were the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey, but the Greek Cypriots and Greece were also losers. It was truly a "lose-lose outcome", he said.

The United Nations plan represented the Organization's best effort to generate a balanced and truly comprehensive proposal which resolved all issues, left little to be negotiated and represented a fair and honourable settlement which met the core interests and aspirations of both sides. To reopen its basic principles or key trade-offs, would be to put the entire enterprise at peril.

In the coming period, after the signature of the European Union accession treaty on 16 April through the entry into force of that treaty on 1 May 2004, and in the run-up to the European Council of December 2004, in which a decision is to be taken on accession talks with Turkey, the overwhelming need was for the parties to hew closely to the plan, according to Mr. De Soto.

That was why the suggestion of Rauf Denktash, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, in The Hague, The Netherlands, to revert to an open-ended discussion of principles did not give any hope that agreement could be achieved. The preparedness by Tassos Papadopoulos, President of Cyprus, not to reopen the substantive parts of the plan if Mr. Denktash responded in the same manner had been welcome.

The point had been reached where the leaders on each side should accept that the plan couldn't be significantly improved by further negotiation and that they should be prepared to finalize it. "Without that honest intellectual realization on the part of both sides, and without the leaders being prepared to explain that to their people, it was difficult to see a settlement being achieved", he said.

Looking to the future, he said that the Secretary-General did not intend to take a new initiative, unless and until he had solid reason to believe that the political will existed, which was needed for a successful outcome. That would come about if there was an unequivocally stated preparedness on behalf of the leaders on both sides, fully and determinedly backed at the highest political level in both motherlands, to commit to finalizing the plan without reopening its basic principles or key trade-offs by a specific date, with United Nations assistance.

He said that since the events described in the report, Mr. Denktash had written to Mr. Papadopoulos proposing a meeting to discuss a range of confidence-building measures. Mr. Denktash was motivated to do that, according to his letter, to address the deep crisis of confidence, which he believed existed between the two sides, and which, in his view, was a major cause of the stalemate at The Hague. Mr. Papadopoulos had responded that the stalemate had been caused not by a crisis of confidence, but by Mr. Denktash and Turkey not accepting the Secretary-General's plan as the basis for negotiating a final settlement. He also restated in the most clear terms that he remained committed, even after 16 April, to finding a solution "within the parameters of the Annan plan", and called on Mr. Denktash to indicate that he accepted the plan as the basis for further negotiations.

In response, Mr. Denktash had reiterated his conviction that a crisis of confidence had obstructed his efforts and that his confidence-building proposals remained on the table. He also reaffirmed that he continued to support the good offices mission of the Secretary-General. On that, he and Mr. Papadopoulos appeared to be in agreement. However, without accepting the Secretary-General's plan as the basis for further negotiations, Mr. Denktash also proposed that the leaders should discuss the amendments they wanted to present and, if agreed, put the plan to referendum. So far, Mr. Papadopoulos had not responded to his letter, Mr. De Soto said.

In conclusion, he said that the criteria contained in the Secretary-General's report would guide the Secretary-General in his good offices in the future.

The meeting, which started at 10:40 a.m., was adjourned at 11:00 a.m., after which the Council went into closed consultations on the issue.


When the Security Council met, it had before it the Secretary-General's report on his mission of good offices in Cyprus (document S/2003/398), describing the intensive effort undertaken under the Secretary-General's auspices between 1999 and early 2003 to assist the two sides in Cyprus in achieving a comprehensive settlement. Had it been seized, that effort would have allowed a reunited Cyprus to sign the Treaty of Accession to the European Union on 16 April 2003.

The oldest item continuously on the Secretary-General's peacemaking agenda, the Cyprus problem has been before the Security Council for close to 40 years. Given the intractability and the variable geometry of the issues, it is not far-fetched to describe it as a diplomatic "Rubik's cube", the Secretary-General states. After Cyprus became independent on 16 August 1960, accumulated tension between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities resulted in the outbreak of violence on the island in December 1963. The United Nations has maintained a peacemaking presence on the island since 1964, when the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was set up to prevent further fighting between the two sides. Currently, the UNFICYP remains on the island to supervise ceasefire lines, maintain buffer zones, and undertake humanitarian activities.

According to the report, in 1999, a unique set of circumstances was emerging, which could make a true impact on the attitudes of the protagonists and bring about the required qualitative changes of position. Among the new developments, was the adoption by the Security Council of resolution 1250 (1999), which provided a clear and realistic framework for negotiation; the evolving Greek-Turkish rapprochement; and the European Council decision in December 1999 at Helsinki that opened the door to Turkey's candidature for accession, as well as the prospect for the enlargement of the European Union by up to 10 new members, including Cyprus.

At the Secretary-General's invitation, proximity talks between the parties were held from December 1999 to November 2000, and direct talks from January 2002 to February 2003. During the process, the parties were not able to reach agreement without third-party assistance. Accordingly, the Secretary-General submitted a comprehensive settlement proposal on 11 November 2002, a first revision on 10 December 2002, and a second revision on 26 February 2003. The plan required a referendum before 16 April 2003 to approve it and reunify Cyprus. The Secretary-General's proposal was constructed in such a manner that the two leaders could have signed a two-page "Comprehensive Settlement of the Cyprus Problem", the essence of which was that they would commit themselves to finalizing negotiations, with United Nations assistance by the end of February 2003, and submit the plan for separate simultaneous referenda for approval on 30 March 2003.

At The Hague on 10 and 11 March 2003, it became clear that it would not be possible to achieve agreement to conduct such a referendum, and the process came to an end. While the Secretary-General's plan remains on the table, he does not propose to take a new initiative at this point, without a solid reason to believe that the political will exists necessary for a successful outcome.

Analyzing the United Nations efforts in Cyprus, the Secretary-General concludes that many opportunities have been missed over the years, with both parties bearing a share of the blame for that. In the case of the latest failure, he believes that Mr. Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, bears prime responsibility. When addressing the substance, he put the emphasis on overall conceptual issues and his own legal interpretation of the past and the present of the Cyprus problem -- on which the positions of the two sides are almost irreconcilable -- whereas the search for a settlement required the parties to try to work around them and find solutions for the future in a practical way. The fact that, by and large, Mr. Denktash declined to engage in negotiation on the basis of give and take, greatly complicated the Secretary-General's efforts to accommodate not only the legitimate concerns of principle, but also the concrete and practical interests of the Turkish Cypriots.

Notwithstanding considerable efforts described in the report, Mr. Denktash, at The Hague, rejected the Secretary-General's appeal to send the plan to a referendum. He asked that the negotiation should revert to square one for an open-ended discussion of principles, and refused to contemplate a work programme -- as well as the resumption of the work of the technical committees -- that alone would have made it possible to achieve a settlement before the signature on 16 April of the Treaty of Accession to the European Union. Faced with Mr. Denktash's adamant opposition to considering credible ways to meet that deadline, the Secretary-General was left with no alternative but to terminate the process.

According to the report, Mr. Denktash has been very consistent over the decades in his views on the substance of the Cyprus problem. It is clear that his views are strongly and genuinely held. He does not accept that there has been a sea change from the confrontational atmosphere of the 1960s to the Europe that Cyprus is joining at the outset of the new millennium. He also seems to expect that his "realities on the ground" will one day be legitimized. Unfortunately, a Cyprus settlement can be reached only if both sides are prepared to accept that this requires compromise and that the world has changed in the last 40 years.

As for the Greek Cypriot side, Mr. Clerides, in November 1999, had accepted an invitation to start proximity talks with considerable hesitation, because he felt constrained by the terms in which it was couched at the insistence of Mr. Denktash. Mr. Clerides was also reluctant to engage in the somewhat hypothetical exercises that the proximity format entailed. In the direct talks, however, Mr. Clerides sought to find ways to address the interests and concerns of the Turkish Cypriot side if, in exchange, the Turkish Cypriot side would satisfy the basic aims of the Greek Cypriots.

The Secretary-General concludes that one of the obstacles to solving the Cyprus problem has been the perception on both sides that this was a zero-sum game: one side's gain was the other side's loss. "I am strongly convinced that, had it been accepted, my proposal would have created a win-win situation", he states. "I am equally, and sadly, convinced that while the current outcome in the short term may be a greater setback for some than for others, ultimately all are losers in the failure of the recent effort". It was in the interests of all -- Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Greece and Turkey -- that the Cyprus problem be settled.

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