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October 21st Set for Last Reunification Talks Before UNSG Meeting

downer cyprus talksThe current round of reunification talks appears to be drawing to a close, with the last face-to-face meeting between Cyprus leaders Demetris Christofias and Dervis Eroglu set for October 21st following a new phase in negotiations in coming weeks, said UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer.

"I will be talking with the Leaders tomorrow about how we’re going to handle this new phase.  We have obviously given that some thought. This will be a phase that will lead us up to the meeting with the Secretary-General," said Downer.

Speaking after yesterday's talks, Downer said that no date has been confirmed for the meeting with Ban ki-Moon but it is expected to be at the end of October.

In their latest meeting held on September 27th, the leaders discussed European Union matters, which is one of the less contentious chapters, said Downer. There has been progress on the Economy chapter as well, he said.

Commenting on the controversy over undersea exploration for hydrocarbons, Downer said that so far it has not derailed the talks and the talks are continuing in "exactly the same vein" as before the controversy. He referred to both leaders' meetings with Ban ki-Moon in New York, saying that the issue of hydrocarbons was discussed.

"The Secretary-General has made it very clear that it’s important that restraint is exercised here, and that we do what we can to try to make sure these talks are successful," he said.

Nearly all reunification chapters completed

The leaders have not allowed the hydrocarbon issue to overwhelm the talks, he said.

"Now they’ve very nearly gone through every chapter; they certainly isolated, very successfully, some issues as core issues that need finally to be resolved; they’ve moved slowly, but they’ve moved closer together," he said.

Some part of one meeting held in August was devoted to a discussion of hydrocarbons and Downer has spoken with both sides on several occasions, as well as with the Turkish government and a number of other governments, he said.

"It is an issue, but it hasn’t been an issue which has overwhelmed the talks, that’s an important point to make," he said. 

Downer answered a question about how the leaders can pretend nothing is happening amid threats from Turkey which has started exploration activities in Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ):

"First of all, we don’t want the controversy over hydrocarbons to derail these talks.  If these talks are successful then the new united federal Cypriot government will have responsibility for resources issues; that is, natural resources, natural resources and water is the exact language used in a document." 

The two sides have already agreed on this, he said, and once revenues start flowing they will flow to the federal government provided there is a solution, he said.

"Both sides have a real incentive to make sure that they can…lots of incentives; the stability of the region will be very much enhanced by an agreement here in these negotiations," said Downer. 

Future federal government would divide revenues from natural gas

Dividing any revenues would be the job of a future federal government to work out, said the UN special adviser. If the two sides came together and asked the UN to play a mediating role over hydrocarbons, "the Secretary-General would have a look at that and we'd discuss it and look at what we could do," he said.

"But the two sides would have to come to us; we’re not trying to impose ourselves on them.  I think our position is pretty clear.  We really want these talks to succeed," said Downer.

Downer was reluctant to comment on Turkey's latest aggressive stances in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying that "I know there is controversy in international relations; I know this from long experience...Mainly it’s best not to fuel the fire by adding more and more remarks which will only make things worse.  What is said is understood.  We’ve had private conversations with the Greek Cypriots, obviously; we’ve had private conversations with the Turks and the Turkish Cypriots, and a number of others as well, a number of other countries, about this issue of hydrocarbons.  I think, all credit to the United Nations, what we’ve said has remained pretty much private."

He also did not comment on whether the oil-and-gas exploration process should be suspended, saying only that much of the controversy would disappear once there is a solution: "It will disappear because there is a good agreement already reached - that natural resources and water will be a federal responsibility."

Commenting on Eroglu's proposals to Ban ki-Moon suggesting the suspension of hydrocarbon explorations until after a solution is found, Downer said that Christofias is aware of the proposals because they were made public.

"How the Greek Cypriots respond to this is a matter that I’ll leave to them. But certainly we’re familiar with the proposals. As I said already, in terms of any role for the United Nations, that is something we would think about in the context of us being asked by the two sides to play a role.  If we were asked by the two sides to play a role, we’d refer that to the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General would make a decision about that.  But that hasn’t happened yet," he said.

Backlash from politicians

This last comment triggered a backlash in political circles, with DISY chief Nikos Anastassiades saying that it was inappropriate. Similar reactions came from DIKO and AKEL, whose position is that only the government has the authority to make decisions on sovereign rights policy and the United Nations should not take a mediating role. The government has already dismissed Eroglu's proposals.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis is set to meet with UN Special Representative Lisa Buttenheim today at 5.30 amid the controversy. No statements will be made after the meeting, according to her press release.

Yesterday's meeting between the leaders was in a workmanlike and friendly atmosphere and the leaders get on with each other personally, said Downer.

The current round of UN-led peace talks started in 2008 between Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, who was replaced by Eroglu after elections in the Turkish-Cypriot community. The main principle is that it will be a Cypriot solution negotiated by Cypriots. Once talks are wrapped up, a reunification plan will be presented to Ban ki-Moon, a process which will be followed by separate referenda in both communities.

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