Expected Council Action
In July, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for six months, as has been customary since the mission was established in 1964. (Resolution 2026 of 14 December 2011 had previously extended the mandate for seven months as part of the Council’s wider effort to spread mandate renewals throughout the year.)
A briefing in consultations is expected by the Special Representative and head of UNFICYP, Lisa M. Buttenheim, on the Secretary-General’s latest report, due by 1 July. Alexander Downer, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, will also likely brief Council members.
UNFICYP’s mandate expires on 19 July.
Key Recent Developments
Since the Council last extended UNFICYP’s mandate, the UN has expended considerable effort in attempting to facilitate a final settlement of the Cyprus issue. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon most recently met with the two sides at the Greentree estate on Long Island on 23-24 January. Before the talks, the Secretary-General wrote to both leaders expressing the understanding that the talks had entered their final phase. In the lead-up to what was dubbed “Greentree II” (following similar trilateral talks on 30-31 October 2011), there seemed to be some “positive movement” according to the Secretary-General, and both sides agreed on the so-called remaining “core core” issues. These were:
• the election of the executive;
• the number of persons who would become citizens of a united Cyprus; and
• the basic design of a property regime.
In his correspondence, the Secretary-General urged both leaders to unblock the remaining obstacles in the negotiations so that substantive discussions at Greentree could lead to a multilateral conference and, ultimately, a settlement. Part of the impetus for concluding a final settlement by mid-2012 was that Cyprus takes over the EU Presidency on 1 July. Additionally, presidential elections are scheduled in Cyprus for February 2013.
Despite some optimism leading into “Greentree II”, the talks were not productive. The Secretary-General, who conveyed his disappointment to the two leaders following the talks, said that while the discussions were “robust and intensive, only limited progress was achieved.” In his 12 March assessment report on the status of the negotiations, the Secretary-General observed that negotiations on the remaining crucial issues “are close to deadlock.”
On 29 March, following further discussions with the two leaders in Cyprus, Downer briefed Council members in consultations via videoconference on his “good offices” mission concerning the settlement negotiations. This included the lack of convergence on the main remaining issues, as detailed in the Secretary-General’s report of 12 March (S/2012/149). The Special Adviser then met with Ban in New York on 19 April, having provided the Secretary-General with his own private report on the state of negotiations. Later in April, the Secretary-General decided not to call a multilateral conference as he had hoped, given the insufficient progress on the remaining “core core” issues.
In a press conference on 27 April, Downer stated that it was clear that the UN-facilitated negotiations had “recently come to something of a standstill.” As consistently articulated, he emphasised that, ultimately, the talks were a “Cypriot-owned and Cypriot-led” process. No further trilateral meetings are scheduled and—while Downer has made clear that the UN is there to facilitate any future high-level discussions—it seems that there is acknowledgement that a different path is now needed.
The UN’s approach now appears to be two-fold: to maintain dialogue with both sides and to encourage confidence-building steps at the technical level. (There are seven such technical committees.) One issue where progress might be feasible is the opening of new crossing points at the Green Line which divides the two Cypriot communities.
During a visit to Cyprus on 19-20 June, the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement, Štefan Füle, expressed his concern at the stalemate between the two sides. In statements to the press, Füle emphasised the need for both sides to be prepared to compromise, saying that the price of not achieving a solution was going to be bigger than the price of any reasonable compromise. In an address on 19 June, Füle said that discussions suggesting that the status quo could continue were “nonsense” and that “unfinished business” in Cyprus was becoming “unfinished business in the EU.”
Füle also said that the notion that no progress could be achieved during Cyprus’s EU Presidency was a fallacy and that the increased attention on Cyprus over the next six months would result in a sense of urgency to solve the problem. (The Turkish Cypriot side has said Cyprus’s assumption of the presidency would undermine efforts to reach an agreement. Meanwhile, on 20 June a Cyprus government representative said that Cyprus should focus on its EU Presidency duties and that reunification talks would be “put on the backburner.”)
The main issue for the Council is whether there should be a review of UNFICYP’s mandate, given the continuing lack of progress towards reaching a settlement.
Concerning the talks, a key issue is the complicating factor that Cyprus assumes the EU Presidency on 1 July and that President Demetris Christofias will be in office only until 1 March 2013 (he is not seeking re-election).
In July, the Council could:
- extend UNFICYP’s mandate for six months;
- renew UNFICYP’s mandate but agree to revise and reconfigure the mission;
- send a clear message that UNFICYP’s presence will not be indefinite and that the Council expects to see tangible progress in the negotiations; or
- discuss replacing UNFICYP longer term with a political mission.
The P5 members have traditionally had a dominant role within the Council on Cyprus and the drafting of resolutions extending UNFICYP’s mandate. To varying degrees, however, the elected members also take an interest in the issue, most notably perhaps the two other EU members—Germany and Portugal. Given the lack of progress this year towards reaching a settlement, there is likely to be frustration among several members that the recent high-level efforts have not borne fruit.
It seems that the UK in particular, which leads on Cyprus in the Council, might be interested in discussing the benefits of revising UNFICYP’s mandate. There might also be some appetite among other members to discuss reconfiguring the long-standing mission, given the present stalemate. However, some Council members are wary of trying to use UNFICYP’s renewal as leverage to compel the two sides to make progress in the reunification talks and have emphasised that any final deal must be acceptable to both sides.
In the past, some members—including Russia—have emphasised that the talks were at a sensitive stage and the Council should be careful about not sending the wrong message to the parties. (The concern seems to be that a change to the mandate could be interpreted by the Greek Cypriots as a sign that the situation with respect to northern Cyprus was being normalised and accepted.) Those Council members who are more sympathetic to the Greek Cypriots’ position therefore are likely to resist calls for UNFICYP’s mandate to be altered, and assert that such a move will not accelerate a final settlement.
Security Council Resolution
Other Relevant Facts
Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNFICYP
Lisa M. Buttenheim (USA)
UNFICYP: Force Commander
Maj. Gen. Chao Liu (China)
UNFICYP: Size, Composition and Cost
Strength (as of 31 October 2011): 856 military personnel, 66 police, 41 international civilian personnel and 112 local civilian staff
Budget Appropriation (1 July 2012 – 30 June 2013): $56.97 million (one-third of which is funded by the Government of Cyprus; and $6.5 million from Greece)