Sunday 13 July 2014

Interview with British High Commissioner Matthew Kidd (9 July 2014)

Cost of no solution too high

After the joint declaration of 11 February, the negotiations process began with high hopes, high international support, statements of determination and commitment from both sides. Now, it seems that we have come to a stalemate. The sides are blaming each other and the process is not going as smoothly as we had hoped. How do you see it from where you stand?
Kidd: I think you are right. The process is not going as smoothly as people hoped it would. But I think it’s too soon to talk of a stalemate. I think what the two negotiators and the leaders are trying to do is difficult and it’s demanding. They are trying to address the familiar problems in some new ways. Looking back to February when the joint declaration was agreed, we could know already at that point that the next step would be quite challenging and potentially frustrating. Yes, they are finding it difficult, yes they are not moving as smoothly as we could all hope, but I don’t think it makes sense to talk in terms of hitting the buffers or stalemate.

When you say new way of working, do you mean the fact that they will take up issues interdependently as opposed to one after the other?
Kidd: Yes that’s part of it. That is one key process difference that is the challenge they set themselves to get all the subjects on the table and start looking at the ways that they can relate to each other. That is bound to be difficult in itself. Another different angle is the way that they have agreed to use the two levels of leaders and negotiators in a different way from before. To try to use that, to create a sort of dynamic within the negotiations. And that’s I think potentially a good thing, but working out how to use it is not surprisingly so- it’s challenging to start with. On top of which, you have one team which is new and one team which has been working on it for some time – the Turkish Cypriot team is well established they have all been working with each other and they know the issues and they know the negotiating history of the last few years. The Greek Cypriot team is new, is also quite complex the way that it is structured internally as well. So that too I think takes some time to find its way through.

One of the main disagreements between the two sides is whether to accept the convergences reached between 2008-2012? What is your stance regarding the issue?
Kidd: To be honest, I think there is a risk of creating a problem, which doesn’t need to be there. Any negotiation is going to need to be able to use all the materials that is on the table. And so any negotiating process is going to try to build on what is agreed or nearly agreed to try to tackle things that aren’t yet at that stage. So I think that if you say to yourself ‘this bit is cooked off the table, done, cant be touched,’ you are potentially creating a restriction for yourself in terms of how you can construct the overall negotiation. And that is the reason underlying the principle that nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed - which features in that joint declaration.

But isn’t that starting from scratch?
Kidd: No it is not. It’s using the thinking work that has been done before to resolve some of the well-known problems. It is more taking the body of work that has been done before, making sure that its still entirely applicable now, making sure that both sides now are entirely comfortable with it and then they can use it together as a sort of springboard for tackling other areas as well. If you make it too black and white, too restrictive, then I think you risk depriving yourself of opportunities in terms the negotiating process.

What do you think about a more active EU involvement in the negotiations? This is another disagreement between the sides.
Kidd: We start from the shared assumption that a post-settlement Cyprus will be an EU member, so inevitably, EU aspects will come into play in parts of what settlement will look like. And some of the things that will need to be resolved will relate directly to the responsibilities the EU member states have. So one way or another, the negotiating process and the results that we will reach will need to be designed in ways which will be EU compatible. There are different ways of doing that. But I think it does make sense as the negotiating process goes forward to find one way or another of ensuring that EU test is conducted as you go along. I think its very helpful if they find a way whatever way is comfortable for them to ensure that they have got the EU knowledge that they need as well to help them to discuss the areas where familiarity with the EU will be important.

Would that be including the EU in the talks?
Kidd: That is one possible way of doing it, but certainly not the only way of doing it. And if it’s a way of doing it but is not comfortable for one side or the other, then that is not the way to do it. The key thing is to make sure that the expertise is there one way or another so that the results don’t come out in ways, which are going to create problems down the road for the new Cyprus.

Is the UK playing an active role right now in the efforts to reach a solution or is it more behind the curtains?
Kidd: You can be active behind the curtains. We are active and it is mostly behind the curtains. The kind of role that supporters like us is partly in terms of reassurance…

For the negotiators, or the sides or the people?
Kidd: Any or all of those. In terms of the role we can play specifically with the negotiators, both teams know that we talk to them and that we also talk to the others and so there can be a helpful role that we can play in terms of helping refine understanding, helping build confidence, helping in some cases explaining potential misunderstandings. Sometimes there are cases where one team gets an idea about what the other side is thinking or wants to achieve which is actually not correct and people like us then can help sort of reassure and calm an soothe and explain and get over an obstacle. The other thing, which I think we can do which is sort of permanently useful is in terms of public opinion. It’s easy for people, who hear what comes out in the media about the process and feel the frustration and feel the months going by and results not being seen it is easy to lose confidence that it’s a worthwile process, that’s going anywhere. And so people like us, who are reasonably closely in touch with what’s going on can have a role in saying “hold on something is happening efforts are being made we need to keep patient we need to keep at it we need not frustrated” and that I think can be a helpful role. I’m quite struck in the contacts that I have in my daily life by the frequency with which people do come up and ask questions about ‘what’s going on’ ‘do you think something’s going on?’ As though they do think that people like us can offer a worthwhile view on the realities behind what they are told by the parties themselves.

And let me ask you do you think something’s going on?
Kidd: Yes something is happening and it is frustrating and it is difficult.

So I should ask, is anything positive happening?
Kidd: I think the answer is that the two sides they are finding ways - not easily as we would hope - to work out with each other how they can do the business solve the problems see the linkages make the negotiation work and come to a result.

Do you see commitment on both sides?
Kidd: I do see commitment, yes. Not surprisingly, each side is more concerned to get results in particular parts of the negotiation that matter most to them so there is not symmetrical commitment but I think there is commitment on the sides, yes.

Do you have hope that this process may lead to a settlement or referenda at least?
Kidd: Yes I’m always hopeful. I am not hopeful that it will do so in the next six weeks while I’m still here, but I am hopeful yes.

Do you have a prediction about the timeframe – a wild guess?
Kidd: I don’t think there is sort of an inherent way of calculating how long it will take. Some of the things that still need to be addressed are quite technically complex, like property for example. So there will be a length of time that will be needed to get into the details of how to make that work. Some of the other areas I think are much closer to being pretty well defined and then there are one or two areas that they have not really started to get into the detail at all. But negotiations can move at different speeds depending on apart from anything else what results you are looking for. If what you are looking for, for instance is from the beginning a completely developed results with all the details in place completely drafted constitution and so on. If what you are looking for is a sort of headline document, which agrees how you are going to resolve but for instance leaves the details of the constitution to be worked out later that can happen much more quickly.

There is talk about a framework agreement now. Do you think it’s a good idea?
Kidd: People are talking about it sure. I think that there is one particular reason which would make it beneficial and that is looking back to the experience of 2004. A document like that sort of framework document, would be much easier for voters to come to grips with to understand and the implications of, to look at the main points of than the sort of fully worked up text that they had to grapple with last time. So I think that’s one reason why it makes sense. The time issue is another reason why it makes sense. It’s not for us to say what the right outcome for this phase ought to be, but I think there are objective reasons of why a framework document could be an attractive approach. I hope that one of the things they are discussing is what they want the end result to look like but I don’t know how far they are able to do that or how far they’ve shared ideas on it.

What do you expect will happen if we fail to reach a settlement this time again? Is there always another time?
Kidd: Its never a very attractive hypothetical question to try to answer. It seems to me honestly that the costs of not having a solution are so considerable for all involved that it doesn’t make sense to indulge oneself with the thought of ‘if we can’t do it what could we do instead?’ It will be a loss, it will be a failure if we can’t seize the opportunity.

Do you think sides realise the cost of not having a solution?
Kidd: I think some people more strongly than others. What I think there is and perhaps that’s something also which is a bit different from a few years ago, or previously, I think there is more recognition than there used to be that a solution gets harder to reach the more time goes by. So its not going to get easier, its not going to get better the chances are not going to get more promising and I think that sort of mentality the view of it which is quite an important difference from before. 

What do you think about Varosha as a confidence building measure?
Kidd: The starting point is that confidence building is an important thing to accompany the process. It will both help the process to work and it will help public opinion on both sides to feel increasing confidence in the possibility of results. There are lots of different ways in which you can build confidence… We have always known that from the Greek Cypriot point of view, return of Varosha is the biggest possible confidence building measure there could be and that’s not surprising. I think it’s also right and sensible of them to recognise that, in practice, it would only happen step by step. I mean you can’t 40 years later suddenly say to people ‘ok you can go back now.’ It wouldn’t be like that. Which is why it has made sense to think in terms of starting with some sort of survey looking at infrastructure needs, looking at planning needs looking at all those things step by step. So I think it make sense to look at the confidence building potential of Varosha, but in the context of all the other things which are happening as well which can all help in the same way to build peoples confidence.

Do you think you, the US, or other international players should be more active, more encouraging in the process? It seems not much is happening when it is all left to Cypriots.
Kidd: I wouldn’t put it quite like that but I do think there is a difference in public attitudes towards the kind of engagement that we or the Americans or others could bring from 2004 and immediately afterwards. That experience led a lot of people to feel very resistant to outside involvement. And I think what I have seen in the last years is that attitude gradually shifting to a more comfortable recognition that the sort of contribution that people like us can make can be helpful can be positive. And I think that the Biden visit and the reactions to that was one example. As far as I could see people were broadly comfortable with the idea that he was coming to try to help he wasn’t imposing he was supporting. And I think that we feel that the contribution that we try to make is seen in the same sort of way its recognised as being intended positively supportively not as trying to make some accept something that is not necessarily acceptable. We need to be careful not to overstep it not to go so far that that attitude changes again. I think we need to be sensitive to the kind of reactions that there may be to engagement that we are trying to have and make sure that the support we want to give is helpful not counterproductive.

Do you think that the Turkish government, with all the internal and external problems it is facing can much to help process in Cyprus?
Kidd: I am not an expert on Turkey but from the people that I have asked that very same question too, my impression is that its not the Turkish governments current top priority. And it’s not surprising that it isn’t. They have some real challenges to address as you said. But Turkey has made it clear that they want to see a settlement here and they see an advantage to themselves in a settlement being reached here. I think it’s a question the thinking is that the lack of a settlement in Cyprus is an obstacle to the political and economic ambitions that Turkey has. And maybe in the past, that cost seemed to be worth paying because of how they saw their interest here. But my impression is that now they would say that there is much more scope for them to see a settlement here which is compatible with their interests, but can at the same time not get in the way of their ambitions in terms of moving towards Europe, in terms of economic growth, in terms of regional position in the Middle Eeast and so on. So I think that that is the way that their calculation works now and if that’s so, I don’t think there’s any reason to worry that the other problems that they are currently having to grapple with get in the way of that. I think the line on Cyprus will remain the same even while they worry about and try to deal with Syria and Iraq and internal challenges and so on. It seems to be compatible with the sort of way that they’ve been behaving.

Replying to a question of a student at the University of Nicosia last year whether the hydrocarbon reserves in the EEZ of Cyprus could lead to a war with Turkey, you replied this was possible. Was this a warning?
Kidd: It’s another of those hypotheses that one doesn’t want to entertain really  isn’t it? The certainty is that it will take a number of years yet before anybody gets and revenue from the gas reserves in the Mediterranean. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done before anybody gets any benefit. So we all hope that in parallel with the developments, there’s a number of years available for achieving a settlement. I hope that the fact of this gas to come can work as a positive incentive to reach a settlement. There’s enough time to pursue both in parallel. The point that I was trying to address in that question session you mentioned was the need for caution and cool headedness during that period when the various steps are being taken towards exploration and development of the reserves and - we hope at the same time - work towards a settlement. It doesn’t help when people start talking about in terms of war in itself. That’s kind of a dangerous sort of language to use. I hope all sides, all governments concerned are perfectly well aware of the need for cool headedness and caution -and they are. They are doing all they can to avoid it blowing up in any kind of way.

Turkey is sending warships to the region. That is not exactly cool headed is it?
Kidd: Yes absolutely. I guess the answer to that is that in this situation, both parties feel they have strong national interests to protect and so what they feel they need to do is to find ways of putting those interests on the table so that they are not ignored. I hope at the same time they looking behind the scenes for ways of reconciling their different interests in a constructive way, which will be good for regional prosperity and stability. I hope they are calculating carefully and calmly what they need to do without doing it in a way, which makes it harder to pursue a sensible solution. And that’s the right way to encourage them to go.

Is there anything you would like to add or a message you would like to give?
Kidd: Be patient. What is being attempted is difficult. But also, there are things that every individual can do in terms of the way that they think about the benefits of a solution, the costs of not having a solution, and perhaps most important of all, the way they think about each other. A lot of people, who have had very little contact with each other for 2 generations will have to learn to trust each other and share space with each other and resolve arguments with each other. And that will involve lots of personal tolerance as well as state tolerance. And I think it will be important to start that process of getting used to that, getting used to the idea of it even, well ahead so that people are not taken by surprise by the demands that it may come with.

No comments:

Post a Comment