The Cyprus Negotiations: One Year Later
Remarks by Amb. Urbancic and prepared for the Wilson Center
Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here with you today. The Wilson Center, since its establishment in 1968, has been a living memorial to the ideals of President Woodrow Wilson by providing a forum for scholars and policy makers to engage with the public. The Center provides common ground to bridge the gap between the world of ideas and the world of policy by bringing both into creative contact and enriching them.
It's my particular pleasure to be the United States Ambassador to Cyprus. I arrived on the island in August of last year and have been an observer of the negotiations that have been proceeding since September 2008 under the auspices of the Good Offices Mission of the UN Secretary General. I think there is reason to be encouraged, though differences still remain between the sides.
What is the process? The process is, by design, "Cypriot-driven," wrought by Cypriots with the UN Good Offices mission playing a facilitator role only. Hence it is often referred to as a "Cypriot Solution." Greek Cypriot Leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot Leader Mehmet Ali Talat have taken full responsibility for the process. This means not only forging a mutually acceptable agreement, but also selling it to their respective communities for approval in separate referenda. It has now been just a year since the leaders announced the commencement of full-fledged negotiations in July 2008.
Their goal is to find a solution to the Cyprus problem accommodating the rights and interests of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. That solution, as the leaders agreed in a series of Joint Statements prior to the start of the full-fledged negotiations, will reunify the island into a bi-communal, bi-zonal Federation with political equality as defined by Security Council resolutions. The "partnership," as they call it, will have a federal government with a single international personality. There will be a Turkish Cypriot Constituent State and a Greek Cypriot Constituent State, which will be of equal status. The leaders also agreed, in principle, to a single sovereignty and citizenship for all on the island.
In a major step forward, as many of you may already know, the leaders are now completing "the first reading" of the issues that will constitute a comprehensive solution. They are moving at a pace to allow them to finish this first reading by August, and it is anticipated that they will come back and begin an in-depth second reading to increase convergence by September. I think it's important that the international community acknowledge the substantial progress that has been made to date, even though intense negotiations still lie ahead. The leaders are to be commended for their courageous decision to embark upon this path together.
What kind of progress has there been? In the first place, these two leaders ended four years of standoff, which had characterized the situation since 2004. Prior to the start of this current process, representatives of both communities had met over 50 times and were, unfortunately, not even able to agree to establish working groups. Now, however, the two leaders have not only been engaged in full-fledged talks for over a year, but have also agreed on 22 concrete confidence building measures and are starting to implement them. The most recent success was an agreement to open the Limnitis/Yesilirmak crossing point across the buffer zone. Already open on a preliminary basis to ambulances, when fully operational the new crossing point will improve the lives of many Cypriots by improving access to services, like hospitals, and reinforcing habits of cooperation. The two sides have also implemented a bi-communal anti-crime center, a major development, in and of itself. In addition, they agreed to cooperate on preservation of the cultural heritage sites on both sides of the Green Line. Another cause for optimism is the close personal rapport of the two leaders, which is based not only on their long relationship, but also on their decades-long shared desire to reunite the island. Friendship alone, of course, is not going to ensure a settlement, but it certainly has engendered the candor and determination that can make a settlement possible.
It is also important to keep in mind that, happily, inter-communal violence on the island is a thing of the past. Cypriots and tourists routinely cross the buffer zone in both directions. Pedestrian traffic on Ledra Street, a crossing point in the heart of Nicosia's historic district, was opened by the leaders in April 2008, and is bustling, even in the summer heat. From zero in 2003, official trade between the two communities totaled more than $12.4 million last year with bi-communal consumer spending several times that amount. It is easy to discount or ignore these facts, but the truth is that Cypriots have already accomplished much together. The United States very much wants Cypriots to forge these hopeful beginnings into a comprehensive solution, ending the long standing division of the island. The time is ripe and the opportunity ready to be seized.
Why is a solution vital and why does the US support it?
Any solution should first and foremost benefit Cypriots. There are, however, additional gains. The United States believes that a united, federal Cyprus could, and should, be a model in the Eastern Mediterranean region for democracy, ethnic co-existence, economic growth, and stability.
As President Obama said in Ankara, "Advancing peace also includes the disputes that persist in the Eastern Mediterranean. And there is a cause for hope. The two Cypriot leaders have an opportunity towards a just, and lasting settlement, that reunifies Cyprus into a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation."
Resolution of this complex problem will also help fight illegal migration into the European Union. It will enable greater coordination to combat human trafficking. A united island will, by definition, be better able to control its borders.
What is the role of the US? As I said, this is a Cypriot-driven process. At the same time, and as President Obama said before the Turkish Parliament, "The United States is willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work toward a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation." We can play a role in facilitating communication and helping the sides as they think things through, but we do not have any plan for what the final agreement should be. We will support whatever arrangement the two leaders construct. (This could be a strong presidential system with president and vice president elected on a single ticket; or it could be a council of presidents that rotate annually; or it could be something altogether different. These are all questions for the Cypriots to sort out for themselves.) The United States is planning for success – a successful outcome soon. We have no "Plan B."
On the every-day level, the United States has already been able to lend a hand through our foreign assistance program. In partnership with the United Nations, we refurbished and equipped the negotiations facilities. We supported artists, environmentalists and economists as they implemented confidence building measures. Our support extends to measures to preserve the island's rich cultural heritage, including restoration work on the historic churches and mosques, including St. Mamas cathedral in Morphou and the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque in Larnaca. We have also announced that we will make a $900,000 contribution to the construction of the Limnitis/Yesilirimak crossing point, the opening of which I mentioned earlier. We applaud this courageous agreement, reached by the leaders after tough negotiations and stand ready to support additional confidence building measures if and when asked.
As the leaders go forward, challenges will, of course, have to be overcome. Innovative solutions will need to be crafted to bridge differences on key issues such as security, territory, and property. Whatever the issue, the leaders, and where applicable, relevant parties, will have to compromise in order to find common ground.
Despite these challenges, Cyprus enjoys today, more than it has in a very long time, better prospects for a comprehensive solution. Both communities have pro-settlement leaders. It is clear that both sides would benefit economically from a settlement. In fact, an influential recent study by researchers on both sides concluded that Cypriots stand to gain an additional €1.8 billion per year in recurring benefits from a solution. This translates into approximately €5,500 for every family every year. While models like this are by nature imprecise, it is clear that the rising tide of a settlement will lift all boats—Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot alike.
Conclusion: The United States believes that a golden opportunity to reunify the island now stands before the leaders. It is a moment that most impartial observers believe offers an exceptional chance for a peaceful end to the division of the island. Certainly this unique climate will not last forever. I hope Greek Cypriot leader Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Talat seize the opportunity that is before them.
Thank You for your attention.