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. Elizabeth Spehar, Special Representative and head of mission, is likely to brief on the latest UNFICYP report, which is due by 8 January 2017. In addition, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General, Espen Barth Eide, is expected to brief on the developments in the negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Key Recent Developments
During the current round of unification talks, which officially started on 15 May 2015, the Cypriot leaders managed to maintain an overall positive momentum while making noteworthy progress on some of the core issues. Notwithstanding minor setbacks, the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have continued to meet regularly during the past 18 months.
When the Council last met on Cyprus in July 2016, it unanimously adopted resolution 2300, which renewed the mandate of the UN mission. In addition to welcoming the progress in the unification talks, the resolution requested the Secretary-General “to intensify transition planning in relation to a settlement, guided by developments in negotiations”. In a media stakeout following the July consultations with the Council members, Eide explained that the need for contingency planning did not suggest that the plan itself would be implemented, but rather that it would be due diligence to have a plan. Eide also noted that it was important for Cypriot leaders to use “the current window of opportunity” (referring to an increased momentum in the negotiating process) to negotiate the settlement because the opportunity would not last forever.
Under the auspices of Special Adviser Eide, the Cypriot leaders held a series of meetings in September and October. According to media reports, the leaders have made progress on the issues of governance and power-sharing. However, there seemed to be no movement on the more divisive issues of territorial adjustments and security guarantees. On 7 November, outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accompanied Anastasiades and Akinci at the new round of talks in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland. On the first day of the talks, Ban told the media that the Cypriot leaders had reached a critical point in negotiations and that both leaders should make use of the positive momentum surrounding the negotiations. Furthermore, he called on guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and the UK, as well as the wider international community, to support the leaders in overcoming the remaining divisions. After five days of negotiations, the leaders concluded the current round of talks, citing significant progress. They also agreed to continue the negotiations later in November.
On 20 November, the Cypriot leaders reconvened for a second round of UN-facilitated talks in Mont Pèlerin. The negotiations collapsed after two days when the Cypriot leaders failed to reach an agreement on territorial adjustments and border demarcation between the two future constituent states in a unified Cyprus. In addition, the leaders reportedly remained divided on the issue of security guarantees. The Greek Cypriot side seems to be in favour of ending the system of security guarantees and withdrawal of all foreign troops from Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot side apparently holds the view that the system of guarantees should be maintained, at least for a certain period after unification. After the talks in Mont Pèlerin broke down on 21 November, thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots held rallies in the buffer zone in the divided city of Nicosia in support of the unification talks.
After attending a dinner hosted by Eide on 1 December, the Cypriot leaders agreed to resume the negotiations with the aim of achieving conclusions on the outstanding issues. The leaders agreed to meet in Geneva from 9 to 11 January 2017 to exchange their proposals on territorial adjustments while a summit-level meeting involving guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and the UK will take place on 12 January, also in Geneva when the issue of security guarantees will be discussed.
On 2 December, Eide travelled to Greece, where he met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. Three days later, Eide met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Ankara. The purpose of both trips was to discuss the issues related to the January conference involving guarantor powers.
In addition to the UNFICYP mandate renewal, a key issue for the Council will be how to assist in maintaining a positive atmosphere and facilitate progress in the unification talks between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders.
Given that the leaders renewed their commitment to continue negotiations and the possibility that they could reach a final agreement at the January meeting in Geneva, an issue for the Council will be to consider reconfiguring the mandate of the UN mission in case the agreement is indeed reached.
The most likely option is for the Council to renew UNFICYP’s mandate for an additional six months in its current configuration.
Considering that UNFICYP’s presence in Cyprus has lasted more than 50 years, an option for the Council would be to recognise the current positive atmosphere around the unification talks while adding a sense of urgency to the issue by noting that the ongoing process cannot be open-ended.
Should the current negotiations result in a major breakthrough, the Council could issue a statement welcoming the positive development. Furthermore, the Council could explore ways to adjust the mandate of the UN mission to better facilitate the implementation of the possible agreement.
Cyprus has remained an issue of relatively low intensity on the Council’s agenda, followed closely only by some Council members—mainly France, Russia and the UK. Over the course of the past several years the US seems to have become increasingly more engaged in finding a solution to the Cyprus question as the island continues to gain strategic importance because of its potential hydrocarbon resources and its strategic location vis à vis the ongoing fight against terrorism in the Middle East.
Although all Council members support the ongoing negotiations, divergences exist between some members regarding the conditions and timeframe related to the unification talks. The UK and a number of other Council members seem to share frustration over the longevity of the process. In this context, these members seem to be of the view that it would be beneficial to stimulate the negotiations by putting pressure on both sides to stress that this process cannot be open-ended. On the other hand, Russia has strongly opposed any attempt to speed up the negotiations or pressure both sides to reach a solution because of its view that the negotiations must be Cypriot-led and Cypriot-owned for the results to be effective.
The Council dynamics in 2017 should not change dramatically as a result of the rotation of five non-permanent members. Given the current positive political environment in Cyprus, it seems likely that discussions of the UNFICYP mandate renewal will not be contentious and that the Council will support the ongoing negotiation process on the island. However, should the unification talks result in a final agreement, new dynamics will likely emerge in the Council in relation to different ways of modifying the nature of the UN presence in Cyprus.
|Security Council Resolution|
|26 July 2016 S/RES/2300||This was a resolution extending UNFICYP’s mandate for six months.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|26 July 2016 S/PV.7746||This was a vote on resolution 2300.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|15 May 2015 SC/11894||This was a press statement welcoming the resumption of the settlement talks.|