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. Elizabeth Spehar, Special Representative and head of mission, is expected to brief on the latest UNFICYP report. Espen Barth Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, may also brief on key developments in the negotiations between the Cypriot leaders.
Key Recent Developments
More than two years after the current round of unification talks started, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci are yet to reach an agreement on the final settlement. Despite the absence of a final agreement and several setbacks during the talks, both Cypriot leaders have maintained a relatively positive atmosphere during the talks. Since 15 May 2015, when Anastasiades and Akinci officially began the latest round of talks, the Cypriot leaders held over 70 meetings under the auspices of the UN Special Adviser while their technical teams met on over 150 occasions. Several important developments took place during the latest round of talks.
On 11 January, Eide joined Anastasiades and Akinci during a meeting in Geneva in which they exchanged maps containing their respective proposals regarding the territorial adjustments. Eide described this as a ground-breaking moment in the negotiations because it marked the first time the Cypriot leaders themselves presented their proposals on the issue of the territory.
On 12 January, the negotiations moved to the format of a high-level conference involving Cypriot leaders as well as the three guarantor powers, Greece, Turkey and the UK, together with the EU as an observer. The main issue discussed at the conference was the question of security and guarantees. The presence of guarantor powers was necessary given that any agreement on this issue would require their approval. Though no agreement was reached during the high-level segment of the conference, the participants decided to establish a working group composed of the experts from both Cypriot sides and the guarantor countries. The primary task of the group is to identify the main concerns regarding the issue of security and guarantees. The group met at the second session of the Geneva conference on 18 and 19 January but did not disclose details regarding their discussions.
The positions on security and guarantees seem to be fixed. The Greek Cypriot side seems to be in favour of ending the system of security guarantees with the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Cyprus, while the Turkish Cypriot side apparently holds the view that the system of guarantees should be maintained, at least for a certain period after unification.
Following the Geneva conference, the leaders continued to meet sporadically in an effort to find convergences on the core issues and pave the way for reconvening the conference. However, the negotiations stalled. Throughout May, Eide engaged in shuttle diplomacy between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders in an effort to bridge the divergences. Nevertheless, on 26 May he declared that there is no basis to continue the shuttle diplomacy efforts given that “the leaders were unable to find common ground”.
Striving to break the impasse, Antonio Guterres hosted a meeting between Anastasiades and Akinci in New York on 4 June. Addressing the media following the meeting, Guterres announced that the Cypriot leaders had agreed to resume the conference in June. He emphasised the importance of resolving the security and guarantee issues as crucial elements in reaching a final agreement but stated that the leaders will continue the negotiations on all issues interdependently. Guterres said that Eide would prepare a common document that would guide the discussions on the issue of security and guarantees. Subsequently, the Secretary-General announced that the conference on Cyprus would be held on 28 June and would include the participation of the guarantor parties.
In other developments, oil company Total announced that it will begin exploratory drilling for hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus in mid-July. The internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus has granted drilling licenses to several international companies. The Turkish Cypriot side has maintained the position that offshore natural resources and all exploration thereof must benefit both communities on the island. Ever since their discovery in 2011, hydrocarbon resources have had an effect on unification talks. Most recently, in 2014 the negotiations between the Cypriot leaders came to a standstill due to disagreement on this issue.
Human Rights-Related Developments
At its 34th session in March, the Human Rights Council considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the question of human rights in Cyprus (A/HRC/34/15). The report, which covers the period from 1 December 2015 to 30 November 2016, noted some positive developments but concluded that the “persistent division of the island still hinders the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”. In this regard, the report welcomed the commitment to resume peace talks and said that addressing human rights issues should underpin the political dialogue. The report also encouraged further visits to Cyprus by special procedures mandate holders.
In addition to the UNFICYP mandate renewal, a main concern for the Council is how to assist in maintaining a constructive atmosphere and facilitate progress in the unification talks between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders.
In light of the ongoing negotiations between the leaders in Geneva and the possibility that they could reach a final agreement, the Council might need to consider reconfiguring UNFICYP’s mandate in relation to this possible development.
In the absence of major progress in unification talks, a persistent issue for the Council is the possibility of downsizing the mission.
While the Council is most likely to renew UNFICYP’s mandate in its current configuration for an additional six months, further options may depend on the progress in the current phase of the unification talks.
Given that UNFICYP has been present in Cyprus for over 50 years, the Council could add a sense of urgency to the issue by renewing the mandate for a shorter period.
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 mission to better facilitate the implementation of the possible agreement.
The situation in Cyprus is generally followed closely by France, Russia and the UK in particular. In addition, the US has become increasingly engaged in finding a solution to the Cyprus question as the island has continued to gain importance due to its potential hydrocarbon resources and its strategic location vis à vis the ongoing fight against terrorism in the Middle East.
While the Council has been unanimous in its support for the negotiations between the leaders, divergences exist between some members regarding the conditions and timeframe related to the unification talks. Several Council members, the UK in particular, seem to have frustration at the protracted process. These members also seem to share the view that it would be useful to stimulate the negotiations by putting more pressure on both sides while stressing 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 ongoing efforts by the US to review UN peacekeeping operations with the aim of improving efficiency and reducing costs might impact Council dynamics in the upcoming period. (The government of Cyprus contributes one-third of the cost of the mission, and the government of Greece makes an additional contribution.) At the moment, most Council members including the US share the view that there should be no modifications to UNFICYP’s mandate given that this could negatively impact the ongoing negotiations. Should the unification talks result in a final agreement, new dynamics could emerge in the Council regarding the role of the UN mission in its implementation. Likewise, should the unification talks fail, new dynamics could emerge regarding possible downsizing of the mission and reconfiguration of its mandate.
|Security Council Resolution|
|26 January 2017 S/RES/2338||The Council unanimously renewed UNFICYP’s mandate for another six months.|
|9 January 2017 S/2017/20||This was Secretary-General’s report on UNFICYP.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|26 January 2017 S/PV.7869||This was the vote on resolution 2338.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|15 May 2015 SC/11894||This was a press statement welcoming the resumption of the settlement talks.|