Expected Council Action
In January 2015, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months. Special Representative Lisa Buttenheim will likely brief Council members on the latest developments and the UNFICYP report, due by 9 January.
The Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, may also brief. The possibility and timing of Eide’s briefing will depend on progress in the negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Key Recent Developments
After several months of stalemate, the unification talks officially resumed on 11 February 2014 when Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders reached an agreement on a joint communiqué. The negotiations gained some momentum with both leaders and negotiating teams increasing the frequency of their meetings. However, there was still no significant breakthrough before the negotiations paused for the summer recess beginning in July.
After the former Special Adviser on Cyprus Alexander Downer stepped down from his post in February 2014, Buttenheim took on the role of acting Special Adviser until 22 August when the Secretary-General appointed Eide to the post. Following a meeting with Eide on 4 September in New York, the Secretary-General emphasised the UN’s commitment to “facilitating the achievement of a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus” while also noting that Eide assumed the position at a promising moment resulting from the positive momentum following the adoption of the joint communiqué.
On 5 September, Eide made his first visit to Cyprus and met separately with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu. On 17 September, both Cypriot leaders resumed negotiations and agreed to move into the next phase of talks, which would include more structured negotiations, considering that both sides outlined their positions in the communiqué. At the meeting, both leaders also agreed to increase the frequency of the meetings to twice a month.
In late September 2014, during the week of the General Assembly debate in New York, the Secretary-General met with a range of relevant actors on the Cyprus issue, including Eroglu, Anastasiades, Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In addition, the Secretary General met with Štefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement. The Secretary-General reiterated his call for both leaders to work without delay in bridging their remaining differences.
On 7 October 2014, the negotiations came to a standstill when Anastasiades unilaterally decided to suspend the talks after Turkey announced its decision to conduct offshore seismic surveys in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). On 20 October, Turkey formally started its exploration activities with one exploration vessel accompanied by two navy ships.
The hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus have affected the unification talks since their discovery in 2011. The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus has started issuing licenses to foreign companies to start oil exploration in Cyprus’s EEZ. In a 4 October press release addressing the issue, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its concern over the Greek Cypriot government’s “unilateral research activities of hydrocarbon resources in its so-called EEZ without taking into account the Turkish Cypriots’ detailed and concrete proposals for a fair sharing”. Turkish Cypriots claim that they also have rights to offshore natural resources and that all exploration must benefit both communities on the island.
Though negotiations have stopped, Eide has continued to meet both leaders separately in an effort to find a solution to the current impasse. On 23 and 24 October 2014, Eide travelled to New York and held meetings with the Secretary-General, the UN ambassadors of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus and representatives of the Turkish Cypriot community in New York. After meeting Eide, the Secretary-General emphasised that all concerned parties need to de-escalate the situation in an effort to avoid further instability in an already volatile region, while extending a call for countries in the region to try to create an environment for productive talks.
In late October 2014 and during November 2014, Eide held bilateral talks with both Greek and Turkish officials in their respective capitals, in addition to continuing bilateral meetings with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders on the island. Though Eide continues to actively engage with all relevant actors in an effort to resolve the current impasse, hydrocarbon resources are currently not part of the negotiations between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders and, therefore, formally remain outside the mandate of the Special Adviser.
Nevertheless, Eide presented his proposal for dealing with the hydrocarbons issue to both Cypriot leaders. The plan would involve setting up a group of experts to deal with the technical aspects of managing hydrocarbon resources in a reunified Cyprus. Following a recent trip to Cyprus, Eide said that his original idea was not about management of hydrocarbons at present but rather in the future when “the political process has already led to the solution”. Both sides rejected Eide’s proposal and negotiations have not resumed.
The main issue for the Council, besides renewing the UNFICYP mandate, is how to facilitate the resumption of the unification talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders. Considering that UNFICYP was established more than 50 years ago and there has yet to be sufficient progress towards unification of the island, despite all the resources spent, an issue for the Council is whether to reconfigure and downsize the mission.
Another issue will be the increasing tensions over hydrocarbon resources offshore and whether and how the Council should address it.
One option for the Council will be to renew the UNFICYP mandate in its current configuration for another six months.
Another option would be to take note of the positive momentum stemming from the adoption of the joint communiqué and call on both parties to resume negotiations within a specific timeframe.
Should there be a breakthrough in negotiations, the Council could issue a press statement welcoming the progress.
Cyprus is not a high-intensity issue on the Council agenda and is closely followed by only a few Council members, most notably France, Russia and the UK. Traditionally, the UK is more sympathetic to the Turkish Cypriot side, while France and Russia tend to be more supportive of the Greek Cypriot positions. The dynamics on the Council are not likely to change significantly when the five newly elected members assume their seats in 2015.
Even though all Council members support continued negotiations, there are some divergences as to the timeframe and conditions for the talks. The UK and other Council members share the frustration over the longevity of the process. These members are of the view that negotiations should be stimulated by imposing some form of pressure on both sides. Reflecting the Greek Cypriot position, Russia feels that the Council should not impose any conditions or timeframe on the negotiations.
|Security Council Resolution|
|30 July 2014 S/RES/2168||This resolution extended the mandate of UNFICYP for another six months.|
|9 July 2014 S/2014/461||This was the Secretary-General’s report on Cyprus.|