July 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 July 2015
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EUROPE

Cyprus

Expected Council Action

In July, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months ahead of its 31 July expiry. Lisa Buttenheim, Special Representative and head of mission, will likely brief on the latest UNFICYP report. Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide is expected to brief on the progress in the negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Key Recent Developments

The political environment surrounding the unification talks in Cyprus has changed significantly in the past three months. Following runoff elections on 26 April, Mustafa Akinci was elected the new leader of Turkish Cypriots after overwhelmingly defeating incumbent Dervis Eroglu. Akinci is considered a moderate and, according to his campaign platform, a leader who would seek peace and reconciliation with Greek Cypriots.   

The unification talks had come to a halt in October 2014 when Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades unilaterally decided to suspend the talks due to Turkey’s decision to conduct offshore seismic surveys in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. Turkey’s actions were a reaction to the decision by the Greek Cypriot Republic to start issuing oil exploration licenses to foreign companies without taking into account Turkish Cypriots’ claims that offshore natural resources should benefit both communities on the island. Anastasiades and Akinci met on 15 May, marking the resumption, after more than seven months of stalemate, of the unification talks.

Ahead of this month’s renewal of the UNFICYP mandate, Council members are likely to view the situation on the ground in Cyprus with a degree of optimism. On 15 May, Council members issued a press statement welcoming the resumption of the talks. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the commitment of the leaders to move forward and called on both leaders to “seize this opportunity to achieve tangible progress towards a comprehensive settlement that would clearly benefit both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots”.

On 23 May, leading up to their next formal meeting, Anastasiades and Akinci met in the divided city of Nicosia, where they walked through both sides of the city. The leaders used this opportunity to send a strong message of peace and optimism ahead of the continuation of unification talks. This was the first time that Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders spent time together interacting on both sides of Nicosia.  

In their second meeting on 28 May, the leaders agreed to intensify the negotiations and set the dates for their next four meetings, which will be held by the end of July. Leading up to this meeting between Anastasiades and Akinci, the negotiating teams met five times in an effort to find comprehensive understanding on the positions of both sides. The leaders agreed to put particular emphasis on the issue of missing persons. In addition, they agreed on five concrete steps: working to open more crossing points, interconnecting the electricity grids, making mobile telephone networks interoperable, working on the prevention of radio frequency interferences and establishing a committee on gender equality. As a part of confidence-building measures that would benefit both communities in Cyprus, the leaders agreed to open two new crossing points, in Lefka and Dherynia.

The leaders met for the third time on 17 June, when they reviewed the progress made by the negotiators. They agreed to enter into substantive negotiations on unresolved issues of governance, property, territory and security. The substantive negotiations will be based on the convergences and divergences identified by the negotiating teams. At the meeting, Anastasiades and Akinci agreed to focus on negotiations in a comprehensive manner while the negotiating teams continue to work on specific issues and make preparations for the next meeting of the leaders. Regarding the confidence-building measures, the leaders defined the mandate of the newly established committee on gender equality and appointed its members.              

Key Issues

In addition to renewing UNFICYP’s mandate, the main issue for the Council remains how to help maintain the current momentum and facilitate a more substantial process of unification talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders.

In the absence of significant progress for more than 50 years since the mission was established, a recurring issue for the Council is whether to consider reconfiguring and downsizing the mission. 

Options

The most likely option for the Council is to renew UNFICYP’s mandate in its current configuration for another six months.

Another option is for the Council to recognise the current positive atmosphere resulting from the resumption of unification talks and add a sense of urgency to the issue by emphasising that this process cannot be open-ended considering that UNFICYP has been present for more than 50 years.  

Should there be tangible progress in negotiations, the Council could consider issuing a press or presidential statement welcoming the progress.  

Council Dynamics

Cyprus has been a low-intensity issue on the Council’s agenda, followed closely by only a few Council members, such as France, Russia and the UK. There seems recently to be increased interest by the US in finding a solution to the Cyprus problem.

Russia tends to support the Greek Cypriot position that the Council should not impose any conditions or timeframe on the negotiations. The UK and other Council members, frustrated by the longevity of the process and the mission, are of the view that negotiations should be encouraged further by applying some form of pressure on both sides.  

Though the Council adopted the last UNFICYP resolution in January unanimously, several members, most notably Russia, expressed their dissatisfaction at the way the negotiations of the draft were conducted by the penholder (the UK). Russia seemed concerned by the way unification talks were addressed in the draft as well as the delayed consultations on the draft resolution. In the recent past, resolutions renewing the UNFICYP mandate were not always adopted unanimously. Turkey cast negative votes on the UNFICYP resolutions during its Council membership in 2009-2010. In 2012 and 2013, then members of the Council Azerbaijan and Pakistan, who were prominently sympathetic to the Turkish Cypriot side, abstained on UNFICYP resolutions citing disagreement over both substance and procedure. Considering the positive political environment in Cyprus at the moment, it is likely that negotiations of the current draft will be less contentious.   

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution
29 January 2015 S/RES/2197 This was a resolution extending the mandate of UNFICYP for six months.
Security Council Press Statement
15 May 2015 SC/11894 This was a press statement welcoming the resumption of the settlement talks.