Press Releases

    16 February 2004

    Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at United Nations Headquarters, 13 February

    The Secretary-General:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen -- or good evening to those of you watching in Cyprus.

    Indeed, I believe it is a very good evening for Cyprus.

    We have not yet solved the problem, but I really believe that, after 40 years, a political settlement is at last in reach, provided both sides summon the necessary political will.

    In a moment, I will read you a statement which has been agreed with both parties, and with the Governments of Greece and Turkey.

    But first let me congratulate both leaders -- Mr. Papadopoulos and Mr. Denktash -- on the courage and political will they have both shown in the last three days, which has allowed me to take the decision to resume negotiations next week. And let me also thank the Governments of Greece and Turkey for the very constructive role they have both played.

    A lot of hard work is still needed, and there are still tough questions ahead.  But if all concerned show the same courage and goodwill during the next three months that they have shown in the last three days, I believe there is now a real chance that, before the 1st of May, Cyprus will be reunited.

    Now let me read the statement.

    Negotiations resumed on 10 February at United Nations Headquarters in New York between the two parties in Cyprus, in my presence.

    Following three days of meetings and consultations, I am pleased to announce that the parties have committed to negotiating in good faith on the basis of my plan to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem through separate and simultaneous referenda before 1 May 2004.

    To this end, the parties will seek to agree on changes and to complete the plan in all respects by 22 March 2004, within the framework of my mission of good offices, so as to produce a finalized text.

    In the absence of such agreement, I would convene a meeting of the two sides -- with the participation of Greece and Turkey in order to lend their collaboration -- in a concentrated effort to agree on a finalized text by 29 March.

    As a final resort, in the event of a continuing and persistent deadlock, the parties have invited me to use my discretion to finalize the text to be submitted to referenda on the basis of my plan.

    In addition, the parties have agreed on the other suggestions contained in my invitation of 4 February 2004. They have also decided to form a technical committee on economic and financial aspects of implementation, to be chaired by the United Nations.

    The guarantor Powers have signified their commitment to this process and to meeting their obligations under it.

    I welcome these commitments as well as the assurances of the European Union to accommodate a settlement and the offer of technical assistance by the European Commission.  I look forward to drawing on this assistance as well as that of others in the course of the negotiations.

    The talks will re-convene in Cyprus on Thursday, 19 February, with direct meetings between the two parties in the presence of my Special Adviser, Alvaro de Soto. The technical committees on laws and treaties will re-convene on the same day.

    I commend the constructive spirit and political will displayed by both parties, as well as by Greece and Turkey, to reach this agreement.

    All concerned now face historic responsibilities to bring about a just and lasting peace in Cyprus. I wish them well, and look forward to working closely with them.

    Efharistó! Teşekkürler! Thank you very much!

    Question:  In the past, a role for the European Union has been one of the sticking points.  I see it is in your final text here today -- or in your statement, I should say. Can you spell out what the European Union’s role will be exactly? You talk about accommodating a settlement. It sounds rather vague. How important is their role?  How much will they be involved?

    The Secretary-General: I think as we move forward -- as I have indicated -- there is lots of work to be done on laws, on constitutions and on economic and financial aspects, where the EU will have to work with us, to ensure that whatever we do is in conformity with their own requirements. So, in moving forward, we expect to work with them. And we have been working with them, even though they have not been in the room as we negotiate. In the technical and other aspects, they have been fully involved, and the parties have welcomed that.

    Question:  Following up Tony’s question:  I was surprised to see that the European Union and the European Commission are going to accommodate a settlement and that then they are going to provide assistance towards these efforts.The problem is between two communities, and the two mother countries, Greece and Turkey, in your language, are waiting on the side, in the wings. And there is a guarantor Power, the United Kingdom. You are known as the number-one statesman in the world, and you are a very able diplomat. What is it that you cannot achieve that you are insisting -- or some parties are insisting -- on bringing in the European Union? Is it because you do not think you are the competent one, that you cannot handle it?

    The Secretary-General: Let us take the problem in manageable chunks.  First, you have to have the negotiations with the parties to get to a settlement.  The political process and the political negotiations are basically between the two parties -- the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots -- with my representative. Then, when you get into a deadlock, to help us break the deadlock, I will bring in Turkey and Greece to work with me in an intensive period to try and break out of the deadlock:  let us say, for an intensive period of about one week. And if that effort fails, I have the right to complete the plan to go to referenda.

    The European Union is not involved at this key negotiation stage. They come in some of the technical aspects that we will have.  After all, they are joining the European Union. They will be putting in economic assistance and financial assistance. The plan and its implementation will have an economic and financial impact, which they will also have to deal with.  Of course, when I leave, Alvaro de Soto will stay behind to take a few more questions on this and go into some of these things in detail.

    So, see the European Union role in the technical sense, in the implementation.  And when they say they would accommodate a plan, let’s not forget that the train has been moving along.  The Greek Cypriots can enter the EU on the first of May.  Hopefully, we will have a united Cyprus entering.  The EU will have to accommodate and adapt its own processes and accession rules to be able to accommodate the agreement that we are likely to reach with them.  So that statement should be seen in that context.  As I said, Alvaro will stay behind and give you more details.

    Question:  Last night at about 8 o’clock, you left and went home, and all of us thought there had been a collapse.  Just tell us your thoughts at this moment and some of your actions or Mr. de Soto’s actions that helped to bring about this breakthrough.

    The Secretary-General:  Obviously, I am very pleased that we are where we are, and I hope the parties are also going home satisfied and pleased.  I hope the people of Cyprus are happy and that they will encourage their leaders to sustain the leadership and the wisdom they have demonstrated here over the next three months so that we can work in a sustained manner, in good spirit, and get a united Cyprus into the European Union.

    Yesterday, when I left at 8 o’clock, we had a text that the parties were looking at; and they all had rooms on the 33rd floor.  The four delegations had a room each, and Alvaro was shuttling between them to see if they would agree to the proposal I had put to them.  And they worked rather late -- I think some of them had only about two hours of sleep.  But they are much younger than I am, and they can take it.  But, in the end, we did get the agreement, and we met at 10:30 this morning, and everybody signed up on it.  So we are very pleased.  But, of course, other interested parties from around the world also encouraged them to really not miss this opportunity, so we had lots of support from around the world, too.  So there is lots of goodwill for the people of Cyprus and lots of expectation that a united Cyprus will enter the European Union.  And I think we should not let down the people nor miss this chance for your leaders to make history.

    Fred Eckhard:  This is Alvaro de Soto; you all know him as the Secretary-General’s Adviser on Cyprus.  He is here to take the rest of your questions.

    Question:  Mr. de Soto, I want to elaborate a little on that [thorny] matter of the European Union.  There is information that, before you go to Nicosia, you will visit Brussels.  Is that correct?  What is the reason of your visit to Brussels?

    Mr. de Soto: What is perhaps not well known is that, in fact, we have collaborated intensely with the European Union throughout the past three or four years.  In this effort, I have gone many times to Brussels; I have visited the capitals of the presidency of the European Union.  Obviously, there are some issues that concern the European Union -- and particularly the European Commission -- very closely.  And so that consultation was needed.

    And what is perhaps not widely known is that, during the negotiations -- particularly in the technical committees that were considering the laws that would be in force upon entry into force of the comprehensive settlement -- we actually had the European Commission assisting us.  And this was, of course, with the full knowledge of the parties. It is fully our intention not only to continue that collaboration, but to beef it up.  Actually, the Secretary-General has asked me to stop in Brussels on the way to Cyprus next week in order to firm up arrangements to make sure that that collaboration continues.  We value it, and we know that it will be helpful to all concerned.

    Question:  In your statement, you said that, “As a final resort in the event of continuing and persistent deadlock, the parties have invited the Secretary-General to use his discretion to finalize the text to be submitted to referenda on the basis of his plan”.  Does that mean the Secretary-General has the final word on the deadlock?

    Mr. de Soto:  Please focus on the first four words:  “As a final resort”.  It is very much our hope that the parties will be able to agree in the initial stages.  And if, failing that, it is necessary to put in motion this mechanism -- which includes Greece and Turkey -- we devoutly hope that it will be solved at that stage.  And only if that happens, very much as a last resort, the Secretary-General, with some reluctance, would of course assume the responsibility that the parties have entrusted to him to, in effect, have, as you say, the last word.  Because after he completes it, it would go to referenda.

    Question:  Can we say that the Cyprus problem is over?

    Mr. de Soto:  I think the Secretary-General actually stated authoritatively our view on that.  We think that it is within reach, and we have solid reasons to believe that, on the basis of the commitment shown by the parties and by Greece and Turkey in agreeing to the procedure set out in the statement that the Secretary-General just read, and if they match that with the necessary determination and the hard work that needs to be done, it can be done.  It can be done.  I think that there are solid grounds for hope.

    Question:  Can a settlement be avoided one way or another?

    Mr. de Soto:  I think that what has become clear now on all sides is the realization that a settlement is not only inevitable, but highly desirable for them, clearly in their interests.

    Question: It is the same plan, and I was wondering what had changed to convince the two parties to agree on it.  They did not agree before; now they agree on a plan.  What changed, and what significance was there?  Also, is a referendum going to have any importance with regard to the Secretary-General’s ideas or decisions or the leaders’ decisions?

    Mr. de Soto:  I am not sure I understand your second question.  But, as to your first one, that is the kind of analytical question which I prefer to leave to either columnists or to the Governments themselves.  It is quite clear that certain events in the upcoming calendar had something to do with what is happening now.  But what I am now more convinced of than I was before is that there is a consciousness on the part of all the leaders concerned that the Cyprus problem needs to be resolved on its merits, simply because it should not be allowed to fester.

    Question:  In the letter of invitation, there was a point that the United Nations was expecting an answer from Turkey and Greece before the referenda and before the agreement was signed to give assurances that this agreement would be accepted by Turkey and Greece.  And in our country, this was a point of discussion.  How was this question solved in the negotiations?  And, if the calendar does not work -- if there will be delays of two days, three days or something like that -- if diplomacy stops, what is your leverage?

    Mr. de Soto:  So your question is, what is the leverage that we have?

    Question:  That is the second part of my question. The first part is, how did you overcome the problem regarding assurances to the motherland?

    Mr. de Soto:  Well, the Secretary-General has consistently said, starting with his report to the Security Council of 1 April of last year, following the setback at The Hague, that, for him to re-engage in such a process of good offices, he would have to be persuaded that the political will existed in the parties to actually see this through and that he had the full and unequivocal backing of Greece and Turkey.  The Secretary-General has not departed from that conviction and the Secretary-General has now agreed to re-engage, to resume his good offices, based on a clear demonstration of political will that satisfies the conditions that he laid down.  We feel, in other words, that with the agreement, as reflected in the statement that the Secretary-General just read, the conditions are met for the Secretary-General to go forward.

    You did also ask a question about the Secretary-General’s strength as his moral authority.  He does not have actual political power in a classical sense.  What we are relying on most heavily is the self-interest of all the parties involved, as I was saying earlier, in solving this problem on its own merits.  Having said this, the Secretary-General has many friends with whom he works carefully in trying to help the parties see that it is in their interests to actually solve this.

    Question:  You mentioned here, or the Secretary-General did, that, absent an agreement by 22 March, he will convene a meeting of about a week of the two sides, with the participation of Greece and Turkey, in order to lend their collaboration.  First of all, will the Secretary-General himself be in the meeting?  Will it take place in Nicosia, Geneva or New York?  Secondly and more importantly, what does it mean:  “They will lend their collaboration?” Will it be a four-party talk?  Will it be a five-party talk with the European Union?  Will it be just the two leaders, Papadopoulos and Denktash, and just the two motherlands helping, with, of course, you being the main force?

    Mr. de Soto:  Well, you’ve raised a number of questions.  As to the first, we really have not mapped that out because, as I said earlier, it is our hope that it will not be necessary to actually resort to that and that the parties will come to agreement by themselves.  We have the impression that, this time, there is a different mind-set and that negotiations should work much better than what transpired during the previous three and a half years, firstly, so we have not looked ahead yet to that.  There will be plenty of time if that proves necessary.

    As to your second and several subsequent questions on the format, I think you will see clearly in the paragraph that refers to this that it is first and foremost a meeting between the parties and that there is a role also for Greece and Turkey.  Now, they will participate and they can participate fully.  It would provide an excellent opportunity for the kind of interface that has not occurred in the past and we see it has a useful device, if it comes to that.

    Now, you asked whether it should be characterized as a four-party conference or a five-party conference.  We see it essentially as a diplomatic device at the disposal of the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General gathers these four directly-concerned parties -- two States and the representatives of the two sides on the island -- in order to jointly concentrate on the way out of problems that they have not been able to solve merely at the two-party level.

    Question:  [inaudible]

    Mr. de Soto:  We haven’t thought that far ahead.

    Question:  You’re involved in Cyprus talks and you have been involved in the issue of Western Sahara.  Do you see any parallels between Cyprus and the Western Sahara now that you have achieved this breakthrough success?

    Mr. de Soto:  That’s another question that I will leave to academics.

    Question:  Last night -- I mean, all night, I can say -- the United States delegation was awake in the Security Council delegates’ lounge and all sides were visiting with them and asking questions.  But I couldn’t see their role in your statement and the plan.  Why?

    Mr. de Soto:  How do you know they were asking questions?  Were you close enough that you could overhear?

    Question:  Yes, Sir, I was.

    Mr. de Soto:  But I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your question, though.

    Question:  The question is, why didn’t you include the United States Government in this process officially?

    Mr. de Soto:  The United States and the United Kingdom and others, we consider to be friends of the Secretary-General and they lend very valuable assistance in many ways, including diplomatic assistance to further the goals that we all share.  However, it is the United Nations, the Secretary-General and I, as his Special Adviser on this issue, who have the mandate from the Security Council to conduct this exercise.  And they agree with us, as do all students of conflict-resolution and diplomacy, that it’s best to have a single entity or person in charge of an effort of this kind.  Too many cooks is not a good recipe.

    Question:  I was going to ask the same question, but, well, I’ll try another way.  Last night, Mr. Weston was very active between the two sides -- I mean, more than United Nations officials.  Would you like to say something about their role in the future?

    Mr. de Soto:  Were you on the 33rd floor at any time?  I’m just trying to guess how you could possibly establish the comparison.  I mean, Tom Weston and I are not in competition, but I’m just curious about how you reached that conclusion.

    Question:  I was on the 2nd floor and Mr. Weston was there and also --

    Mr. de Soto:  I assure you we were not sleeping.

    Question:  You have been so long in this business and one aspect of that is that you don’t have to play the manipulation in this business because you have become so expert.  What is actually your prediction?  Do you really have any hope?  Is it going to be peaceful or a little bit more argument?

    Mr. de Soto:  I have a good feeling about this.

    Question:  You have a good feeling.

    Mr. de Soto:  I have a good feeling about this.

    Question:  About the referendum:  How significant is it in that process?  Secondly, as a follow-up, is it going to set an example for other conflicts around the world?

    Mr. de Soto:  The referendum is not only significant, it is decisive, because ultimately it is the people -- it is the Cypriots themselves -- who are going to decide whether this settlement is going to come about.  That is how important it is.  And, as to whether it will have a snowball effect on others -- I certainly hope so.  Cyprus is probably, is certainly the longest peacemaking mandate that the Secretary-General of the United Nations and three or four of his predecessors -- I’ve lost count -- have had.  This would obviously be an extraordinary breakthrough.

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