Tuesday 26 May 2015

Interview with Ambassador Jean Luc Florent of France in Nicosia (25 May 2015)

How do you read the Turkish Cypriot election results?
Florent: My understanding is that there are three main messages. First one is a call for a political change at the level of leader, and I think that the result obtained both by Mr. Akinci and also by Mr. Ozersay is indicating that there was need for a change. The second message is, of course, the willingness to reach a settlement in the Cyprus issue. And the third one, is, having - according to what Akinci said during the campaign and immediately after his election  - a more-balanced relationship between Turkish Cypriots and Turkey. These are in my view, the three main messages.

Were you expecting such an overwhelming support for Mr. Akinci?
Florent: We received information some days before that maybe Mr. Akinci would win the election. So we were not totally surprised. But it is true that the score, which was obtained by Mr. Akinci, was in a way surprising. But we were not surprised by his election as such.

Do you read this as the Turkish Cypriots challenging the status quo and putting forward a very determined desire for change for the second time?
Florent: Well, yes, this is my reading of the elections. So I think there is a real willingness for a change.

Now there is a new process. Why should this process be any different than the previous ones that all failed?
Florent: First of all, I think there is real mutual confidence and trust between the two leaders – Mr. Akinci on one side, and Mr. Anastasiades on the other side. And having discussed with Mr. Anastasiades recently last week, I can tell you that he gave me the impression that there was a real confidence and trust between the two. So I think this is a very important aspect. Trust. I think this is also amplified by the fact that they are sharing the same vision. And this is important. So there is trust on the one side, and the fact that they are sharing the same vision as far the settlement of the Cyprus problem is concerned. Mr. Akinci made very clear statements that the goal of a settlement is a real federation, but not something that looks like a confederation. And this is an aspect, which is very important, because the predecessor of Mr. Akinci was not always clear when he was mentioning what a settlement would be.

What do you think of the first CBMs that the two leaders announced?
Florent: First of all, they are encouraging. Secondly, they are useful. The important thing is to concentrate on small confidence building measures, which have a real, direct and quick impact as far the population is concerned. This is very important because it will introduce trust between the two communities. And it will facilitate the daily life, being the crossing aspects, being the possibility for interconnection as far mobile phones are concerned. The CBMs will help contact between the two communities and the mobility between the two communities. And of course it will be useful for the settlement. So we are very encouraged and my understanding is that during the next meeting of the leaders, which is scheduled for the 28 of May, I think more CBMs will be proposed. As I said they are very important because they are the direct impact on the population.

Varosha seems to raise caution in UN and other actors as CBM because it risks diverting attention and resources from comprehensive solution. What is your stance?
Florent: I think the question of Varosha is both complex and symbolic. So I think it is important to try to find something about Varosha, but in a way, which will not interfere with the substantive negotiations. And this is why I think - and this is the understanding of the two leaders at least from the impression I get- it is important to have a parallel process and to give time in order to see if there is a possibility to reach something about Varosha. But it will be at a later stage and as I said, in parallel with the negotiations process in order to avoid interferences between the two. I think it is important for the confidence in general for both communities and for trust and confidence in the negotiation process that if there are progresses in CBMs such as the one on Varosha. I think it is important to keep them in mind but there is no necessity to rush. And it must not be a precondition. And it is my understanding that now it’s clear that it is not a precondition. As I said it will be in parallel with the negotiation process. So, it is true that something on the CBM, which is highly political like this one, will help and facilitate the process, but there should be no rush.

The priority should be comprehensive solution?
Florent: It is the priority and it is the objective of the two leaders. This is my understanding. Now, they are on the same line that they will discuss the CBM on Varosha, but in a parallel process and taking time in order to reach something. In any way this is something which must be reflected on, in one way or another in order to have a better position and being ready once an agreement will be reached because we all know what the situation is for the time being.

UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Mr. Espen Barth Eide wants important progress by 3rd week of September in a bid to bring thornier issues to the UN General Assembly in New York, where guarantor powers may be involved. Do you think this is a realistic expectation?
Florent: Well, what is important in my view, is what will happen during the 2,5 months to come as far the negotiating process is concerned. If there is real progress made at least as far the principles are concerned - I am not saying that we need to reach an agreement on every detail or issue because this will take time and there is no need to artificially accelerate such a process - this will create a climate, which will be positive and effectively it could be useful during the ministerial week in New York in September in having a meeting with the Secretary General in order to take stock of the progress and to encourage the follow up of the exercise . But as I said, everything will depend on what will happen in the two months, which are crucial in my view, because there are a lot of expectations on both sides and I think these expectations must not be deceived. Hopefully, the two leaders will do their utmost in order to be sure that some progress will be achieved.

Is France willing to give more assistance or be more actively involved in the process as a permanent member UN Security Council?
Florent: France, since the beginning, is in favour of the reunification of Cyprus by definition. We are ready to support and to give assistance in one way or another if we are requested to do it. Because for the time being, we think it is positive that the negotiation process is resuming, that there is a positive mood and we can expect more progress in negotiations that was not the case in the past. So we are supporting such a process on a national basis, as an EU member state and as a UN member state, in particular sitting in the Security Council. We are ready to support politically speaking, and we are ready to help as far as we can. But we will support as long as we are asked to, because it is difficult to know what we can do. So many actors are involved - the two leaders, the UN the the guarantors, maybe the EU will be involved at a later stage in order to ensure that the result of the negotiations will be in conformity with the values principles and acquis communitaire. So, we are ready to help, but if there is a specific need. Of course we will study the process and we will try to satisfy it.

So far all members of UN Security Council supports a solution. Do you think when the day comes there still be unity on Cyprus? Or do you expect disagreements?
Florent: The Security Council adopted last Friday a statement welcoming the resumption of the process and ensuring the Security Council support for the process. The UN Security Council, and the P5 in particular, works in order to preserve the consensus on Cyprus. There may be differences in approaches from time to time, but the idea is that we all try to find a common ground and we always find it. And I think this is very important. And even Mr. Eide recalled some weeks ago that it was important to keep the consensus within the Security Council and particularly among the permanent members as far the Cyprus issue is concerned. So my understanding is that, if a settlement in conformity with the previous UN Security Council resolutions and with the principles values and acquis communitaire of the EU, my expectation is that not only will we have consensus maintained in the Security Council in particular among the permanent members, but we will even welcome and facilitate the implementation of such a settlement. It is in the interest of everyone to settle once and for all the Cyprus issue.

The biggest doubt of many Greek Cypriots is Turkey - whether Turkey is honest and sincere and whether it really wants a solution. From the messages you get behind closed doors, are you convinced that Turkey supports a solution?
Florent: This is a very delicate question. My understanding is that everybody is well aware of the fact that we need the support of Turkey in order to reach a settlement of the Cyprus issue. The question is mainly is: is the time ripe now for such a settlement wit the participation or the help of Turkey. My understanding is that hopefully the dynamic dimension in the negotiation process will be maintained and hopefully Turkey will play the game. We are receiving messages from Turkey indicating that Turkey is ready and willing for the settlement of the Cyprus issue. Here again we will see in the two-three months to come what will happen. Mainly after the Turkish election after 7 June, we will have a better picture. Let’s wait and see. But hopefully, Turkey will play the game if there is real prospect for reaching an agreement. As I said it is in the interest of everybody, including Turkey.

Do you agree that it will be a test for everyone’s sincerity?
Florent: Expectations are high and we must not be disappointed. So hopefully it will be more than a test. It will be a reality. And as I say, what is important is to reach political agreements within the negotiation process as quickly as possible to demonstrate that reaching a settlement is not only an idea, but a reality. Hopefully, all the actors involved will be associated and play the game in order to facilitate the role of the two leaders. So hopefully all the actors involved in the process - states and international or regional organisations, civil society – will play a role in order to keep the momentum and this is the most important aspect now. And hopefully it will succeed. This is our wish.

I realize you are more willing to be more active in the north compared to the past. You are attending events and conferences. What made you change your attitude? Has the prospect and hope of a solution affected you?
Florent: As you know, our position is very clear and we must be coherent with this position. This is why I am not in a position to have contacts with the officials in the north. But I am entitled to have contacts with those involved in the negotiations process including Mr. Akinci, the chief negotiator and his team. And also civil organization which were pre existent to what happened in 1974. So there is no change in our policy, which is a principled policy. But it’s true that there is -lets say-more need in order to have these contacts with these organisations or people taking into account what is happening now – the fact that there is hope now.

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