Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Nicosia, Cyprus
January 20, 2011

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Good evening, everybody, and thank you for taking the time in the evening to come out for this. I am delighted to be here in Cyprus. This is my first trip out as Assistant Secretary. I came to get a better understanding of the sides' perspectives on the important issue of Cyprus. It is very important to us. We want to see a settlement. I met with Alexander Downer last night and spent today on both sides with leadership, again not bringing an American plan to the table but trying to get a better sense of the perspective from both sides. And I think I leave with a better understanding of where the talks are. I was able to convey to the parties America's strong support for a settlement of the Cyprus problem. I was able to convey what Secretary Clinton has said, which is that the status quo has gone on for far too long. We want to see how we can be helpful, and we will offer our support to the UN-led process -- the UN Good Offices Mission -- and what needs to be a Cypriot-led process, where there is only going to be a settlement when both sides agree. I would be happy to take any questions that you might have.

QUESTION: Was there anything that surprised you? Anything you didn't expect?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. You know, I came to get a better sense of the parties' perspectives, and I think I did and took that to another level. But through the embassy, and through our close attention in Washington and meetings we have had with both sides in Washington, New York, and elsewhere, I think we are pretty much engaged, and there are no surprises. We just want to find a way to be helpful, as I say. Sooner rather than later would be a good time for a settlement and would be in the interest of both sides.

QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, you said that you are leaving with a better understanding of the situation. Are you leaving with more optimism than what you came with? Are you optimistic about some kind of breakthrough? There is a meeting with the UN Secretary General next week. And second, there has been some talk in diplomatic circles –- foreign diplomatic circles -- that this might be the last chance to solve this problem. What is your take on it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We don't really have the luxury of optimism or pessimism. If the problem were easy, it would have been solved a long time ago. Nobody underestimates the obstacles that stand in the way of a settlement of the Cyprus problem. And I don't want to underestimate those obstacles. That said, a process of direct talks between the two sides is the only way this problem is going to be solved. And from that we are encouraged. They are talking; they are talking extensively. Nobody ever believed -- we are not naïve about this -- nobody every believed that the accumulated differences over the years and decades would be solved quickly. So I didn't come with any excessive degree of optimism. I came knowing how difficult it is. But I am encouraged. What I did hear from both sides is that they are committed to continuing the process. I heard no indications, threats, warnings about breaking the process off. I heard both sides, with admittedly different perspectives on some important issues, but both determined to carry on with the process. And both, I think, convinced -- as we are -- that the only way to bring the process to a positive conclusion is through this current process. So I think that is a way of answering the second part of your question -- no. As I said already, sooner rather than later is better, because there is a real opportunity now to take advantage of this dynamic. But we are not thinking in terms of windows closing or new approaches. We need to stick with this approach and make it work.

QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, you have written extensively about how the West can win Turkey over, and you also have highlighted the need for Europe to diversify its energy supplies. Do you think the hydrocarbon reserves found southeast of the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone is something that is actually going to hinder a solution process, given that although the two sides clearly are sitting down and talking at the table Ankara is always very near.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don't really see the linkage between those two issues. Energy diversity is something that the United States strongly supports in Europe. It would be good for Cyprus. We are prepared to help. As you know, an American firm is involved in developing the energy resources of Cyprus. We think that is a very positive thing. And if it benefits energy diversity in Europe and energy supplies for Cyprus, that is a good thing. I don't see it in any way as standing in the way of the process. We know what the issues are here. And energy developments offshore are not going to change what they are.

QUESTION: The only reason I am asking -- sorry for the follow-up -- the only reason I am asking the question is because there has been a certain increase of tension and public rhetoric regarding those issues, specifically after Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement on their Exclusive Economic Zones.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I said, I think on the Cyprus issue we know what the significant issues and chapters are, and I don't think that changes that in a significant way.

QUESTION: There is a feeling that Turkey is not really welcome in the European Union anymore by certain countries and all that. Does this have, more or less, an effect on efforts to solve the Cyprus issue as well? Do you agree with that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me just say the United States continues to believe that Turkey entering the EU, when it meets the criteria, would be good for Turkey and good for the EU. Let me also say we know it is not for us to decide. It is for European Union members to decide. And obviously Turkey has to want to join. But we say -- as friends of both the EU and Turkey -- that we think that it would be a positive thing, that it has been a positive thing in the past, that Turkey has been on the path to membership. And a Turkey that continues to move in that direction, meets the criteria, and ultimately joins the European Union would be good for the EU in many ways, it would be good for Turkey, and it would certainly be good, we believe -- and we think Cypriots agree – that it would be good for Cyprus. So we will continue to support that process. And when I travel in the region, I hear Turkey's neighbors also being supportive of that process, in part for the same reasons. Because they believe that a Turkey that sees itself as part of the West, that sees itself ultimately as part of the European Union, that knows that only with good relations with its neighbors is that process possible -- is good for those neighbors as well. And so we are determined to keep working with the parties, to the extent that an outside actor like the United States can influence it, to move that process forward. And just to put it in the opposite way: a Turkey that had lost all hope and given up on the prospective of EU membership would probably be in a less likely place to have a positive impact on the Cyprus problem than a Turkey moving towards the EU.

QUESTION: Going back to what you said earlier about what you can do to help. What can you do to help? Have you been told what you can do to help? Have you been given any new ideas on how to help? Is there anything new on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Each side has thoughts on how we can help, but they weren't exactly the same. I said already at the beginning that we have been convinced, and we remain convinced, that the best way forward is a Cypriot-led process. It is important to have the UN Good Offices Mission involved. Every negotiation can benefit from outside direction, facilitation, mediation. What it wouldn't benefit from is the United States deciding what the plan should be and trying to impose it on one side or another, and that is not what we are doing. That is not what we have done in the past, and that is not what we are going to do in the future. As friends of both sides, and as friends of all of Cyprus' neighbors, we can be helpful in understanding what the issues are, thinking through creative ways that some of these obstacles might be overcome, talking to neighbors, and talking to the parties, and trying to help them bridge their differences. But again, let me be clear. There is only going to be a settlement when the two sides on the island agree on a settlement. We are hopeful that they will do so because we think it is in the interest of both to do so. And that is why I began by saying that the status quo has gone on for too long. Both sides lose from a perpetuation of the status quo. Put it differently, both sides win if there is a settlement. And we believe that they understand that. And as difficult as it is to find exactly what the settlement should be, because there are so many parameters, once they finally do so they will both benefit from it.

QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, you said you came here to see where the talks are at. Where are they at?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, that is a difficult and complicated question, because as you know there are six chapters, each of which has very many detailed subpoints. And I can tell you that there has been extensive and detailed discussion of all aspects of it. So in that sense they are quite advanced, because the parties know -- as they need to know -- where the other side stands on a lot of key issues. In that sense, they are quite advanced in identifying the issues. They are also -- it is no secret -- not yet on the verge of a settlement. We would rather see them be more advanced than they already are. It is a frustrating process for both sides, and it is a frustrating process for outsiders. As I say, everyone loses from the perpetuation of a status quo. So to answer your question, they are not as far along as we would like, but they are at a point where both the parties and the UN facilitators know where the parties stand on the key issues. And they are going to keep working, and we will support them in trying to close those final gaps.

QUESTION: Do you have any of your own ideas about the settlement? I know you have studied the problem. You have studied Turkey a lot. Do you have any personal ideas about how to bridge the gap? I think that personal involvement or technical involvement might be beneficial at this point in the negotiations.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all, on process, I think I have already been clear that the approach needs to be direct talks. It needs to be Cypriot-owned, Cypriot-led; the UN is the key facilitator. That’s clear on process. As for particular ideas within each of the chapter, we are prepared and will remain prepared to share creative thinking with the parties. If I had any specific ideas, I wouldn't be sharing them here. And I don't plan to announce any right now. But again, as friends of the process, of course we are very closely engaged. The Ambassador knows these issues very well. We are familiar with other negotiations on similar issues. As I already mentioned, we are in close touch with Mr. Downer. And to the extent we can, we can help the parties think through the really challenging issues that they face at the negotiating table.

QUESTION: When are you coming back?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As soon as I can, because I like it here. I spent a delightful day-and-a-half here. And hopefully I will have good cause to come back to support a process that is moving forward in the near future. OK? Thanks everybody.

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