Expected Council Action
In January, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months ahead of its 31 January expiry. Lisa Buttenheim, Special Representative and head of mission, is likely to 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 negotiations for the latest UNFICYP mandate renewal in July were conducted in a fairly routine and smooth manner. Council members seemed to be very content with the situation on the ground and the positive atmosphere surrounding the unification talks, which officially resumed on 15 May 2015. Since then, both Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have continued to engage in constructive dialogue facilitated by Special Adviser Eide.
Though there was a month-long pause in August 2015, the unification talks resumed on 1 September 2015, when Eide hosted a meeting between Anastasiades and Akinci. The discussion focused mainly on the issues of property and governance. The negotiating teams continued to meet regularly during September, while the leaders met again on 14 September 2015 to review the progress made. At that meeting, both leaders agreed to intensify negotiations and increase the frequency of meetings in the upcoming period.
During the general debate of the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Anastasiades on 26 September and Akinci on 2 October 2015. After the meetings, Ban commended the leaders for their efforts and commitment to reach a settlement as soon as possible. In his statement at the General Assembly debate, Anastasiades noted that significant progress had been achieved on various issues regarding all chapters of the Cyprus problem but that notable differences still remained on some of the substantive issues. Anastasiades also indicated that there was a renewed hope that “the new round of negotiations will lead to the final settlement of the Cyprus problem”.
Soon after their return from New York, the Cypriot leaders continued the unification talks on the island. During October 2015 they held two meetings, while in November they intensified their efforts and held a total of six meetings. Three meetings were held in December. In addition to these, Eide held separate meetings with each Cypriot leader while the negotiating teams have continued to meet almost daily.
At press time, no specific details regarding particular convergences have been made public. However, it seems that substantial progress has been made on the issues of governance, EU matters and the economy, while the more contentious issues of property, territory and security have yet to be resolved. Speaking with the media on 15 December 2015 after meeting with Anastasiades in Nicosia, Eide said that most of the issues regarding the island are to be resolved by the Cypriots themselves. However, he noted that in the final stages of the negotiations some issues would require the involvement of the guarantor powers—Greece, the UK and Turkey. Eide noted that there is strong engagement on the issue by these countries. .
Both leaders as well as Eide have expressed hope that a settlement can be found in the near future. Some media reports have indicated that a referendum on the final settlement could be held early in 2016. Nevertheless, the timing of a possible solution will depend on the progress made by Cypriot leaders as there is no timeline set.
There was a flurry of diplomatic activity in Cyprus from late November through early December 2015. On 19 November, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visited Cyprus and met with both Cypriot leaders as well as Eide. Hammond used this opportunity to express the support of the UK as one of the guarantor powers in the effort to reunite the island. On 2 December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Cyprus, meeting with Anastasiades and Eide. However, Lavrov did not meet with Akinci because the latter insisted that the visit take place in northern Cyprus instead of in the neutral buffer zone as proposed by Lavrov. Though he expressed support for the unification talks, Lavrov said that attempts “to set artificial deadlines and impose schemes and so-called independent arbitration from the outside were made in the past and did not lead to any good”. The day after Lavrov’s visit, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived on the island and met with both Cypriot leaders and Eide. In a statement to the press, Kerry said that the US remains supportive of “the UN-facilitated, Cypriot-led settlement process to reunify Cyprus as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation” and that the US would provide technical and financial assistance to that end.
Besides renewing the UNFICYP mandate, the main issue for the Council remains how to assist in maintaining the ongoing positive atmosphere and momentum, as well as how to facilitate a more substantial process of unification talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders.
In the absence of significant progress in the more than 50 years since the mission was established and in light of all the resources spent by the UN, a persistent issue for the Council is whether to reconfigure and possibly downsize the mission. However, this issue will likely not be considered during the upcoming UNFICYP renewal in anticipation of the possible agreement at the island.
The most likely option for the Council is to renew the UNFICYP mandate for an additional six months in its current configuration.
The Council could also take note of the positive momentum and atmosphere surrounding unification talks while calling on both parties to consider a specific timeframe for the process in light of the more than 50 years of UNFICYP’s presence on the island.
Should there be a breakthrough in negotiations, the Council could issue a press statement welcoming the progress.
Cyprus still remains a low-intensity issue on the Council’s agenda, followed closely by few Council members—mainly France, Russia and the UK. The US has recently showed increasing interest in finding a solution to the Cyprus problem as the island continues to gain strategic importance due to its potential hydrocarbon resources and its geographical position as it relates to the US’s ongoing fight against terrorist organisations in the Middle East. Traditionally, France and Russia tended to be more supportive of the Greek Cypriot position while the UK has been more supportive of the Turkish Cypriot position.
Though all Council members support continued negotiations, there have been some divergences as to a timeframe and conditions related to the unification talks. The UK and other Council members share frustration over the longevity of the process. These members hold the view that in order to stimulate the negotiations, it would be beneficial to impose some form of pressure on both sides. Russia, on the other hand, strongly opposes imposition by external actors of any conditions or timeframe on the negotiation process.
In 2016 Council dynamics regarding Cyprus should not change dramatically as a result of the rotation of five non-permanent members. Considering the current positive political environment in Cyprus it seems very likely that negotiations for the UNFICYP draft resolution will not be contentious and that the Council will be supportive of the ongoing negotiation process on the island.
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 July 2015 S/RES/2234||This resolution extended UNFICYP’s mandate for another six months.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|29 July 2015 S/PV.7496||This was a vote on resolution 2234 extending UNFICYP mandate until 31 January 2016.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|15 May 2015 SC/11894||This was a press statement welcoming the resumption of the settlement talks.|