January 2018 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 December 2017
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EUROPE

Cyprus

Expected Council Action

In January 2018, 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 UNFICYP, is expected to brief on the latest UNFICYP report.

Key Recent Developments

The past year was characterised by several noteworthy developments regarding the reunification talks between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci. The latest round of talks, which formally started on 15 May 2015 and lasted over two years, concluded without agreement on a final settlement. Nevertheless, during the talks, both Cypriot leaders and their negotiating teams had a notably greater level of engagement with each other than in the previous talks, which resulted in major substantive progress on several issues.  

During the meeting in Geneva on 11 January 2017, Anastasiades and Akinci exchanged maps with their respective proposals on territorial adjustments. This was a significant development, as it was the first time the Cypriot leaders presented their proposals regarding territory. A day later, the negotiations moved to a format of a high-level conference on Cyprus involving the Cypriot leaders and guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and the UK, with the EU as an observer. Given that any agreement on the issue of security and guarantees would require their approval, the presence of the guarantor powers was indispensable. Though no settlement was reached during the high-level segment, the participants agreed to reconvene the conference after the newly formed working groups identified the core issues on security and guarantees questions.       

After some delays and intense diplomatic efforts by then-Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide, the Cypriot leaders and the guarantor powers resumed the Cyprus conference on 28 June 2017 in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, but again failed to reach an agreement because of the inability to bridge differences on the issue of security and guarantees. This led Secretary-General António Guterres to announce on 7 July that the conference had been formally closed. Later in July, the Council extended the mandate of the UNFICYP for the customary six months but also requested the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of the mission.

In August 2017, Eide formally relinquished the post of Special Adviser on Cyprus after serving more than three years in the position. On 28 September, the Secretary-General issued a comprehensive report on his good-offices activities, led by Eide and covering developments from 15 May 2015 to 11 August 2017. In the report, the Secretary-General noted that the parties had come close to a strategic understanding on the elements of a comprehensive settlement and that “a historic opportunity was missed in Crans-Montana”. He called on the leaders to reflect on the talks and decide if and when the conditions would be met for a resumption of the process. To that end, he reiterated the readiness of the UN to facilitate the negotiations.     

Since the collapse of the conference on Cyprus, the leaders have not engaged in direct talks. This is partially due to upcoming presidential elections in Cyprus in January 2018. Because of its political implications, the reunification talks have usually stalled in the period preceding elections. In October 2017, Anastasiades formally announced his candidacy for the presidency. In public comments during the past several months, Anastasiades has expressed confidence that the reunification talks would resume following the elections.       

As mandated by resolution 2369,  on 28 November 2017, the Secretary-General submitted to the Council his report on the strategic review on UNFICYP. The report emphasised the importance of maintaining the preventive and deterrent role of UNFICYP and recommended a slight reduction in the actual military strength from the current 888 to 802 troops while maintaining the authorised strength at 860 troops to allow for an increase in case it is needed. Furthermore, the Secretary-General noted that UNFICYP plays an important role in resolving military and civilian incidents in the buffer zone and that the mission’s liaison and engagement activities should be reinforced quantitatively by allocating more human resources to it and qualitatively by redeploying resources from the headquarters to other sectors.

Issues and Options

There are several interrelated issues for the Council to consider in January 2018, the most immediate being the renewal of UNFICYP’s mandate. The Council is also likely to examine what role it could play in encouraging the resumption of talks between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders given the current stalemate. Considering the inability of the Cypriot leaders to achieve a final settlement in the more than 50 years the mission has been present on the island, an issue for the Council is whether to consider significant changes to the mission’s mandate and further downsizing options.

Over the years, the Council has been generally cautious in initiating or even discussing any drastic changes to the mandate or the size of the mission, fearing negative impact on the situation on the ground and on the political process. With the recommendations from the strategic review in mind, the most likely option for the Council is to renew UNFICYP’s mandate for another six months with only minor adjustments, leaving further decisions regarding UNFICYP’s future until after the January elections.  

Council Dynamics

The situation in Cyprus is followed closely only by the Council members that have a particular interest in the issue, mainly the UK, France and Russia. Over the past several years, the US has also gradually become more engaged in finding a solution to the Cyprus problem as the island gains more prominence due to its potential hydrocarbon resources and strategic location regarding the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, as well as security concerns in the eastern Mediterranean region.

The Council remains united in its support for negotiations between the leaders that would head towards the settlement of the Cyprus problem. However, some differences between the members exist in relation to the conditions and time-frame for the reunification talks. These divergences might become more apparent given the collapse of the latest round of reunification talks and no clear prospects for the resumption of dialogue between the leaders. Some members, the UK in particular, seem frustrated by the protracted process. These members seem to share the view that this process cannot be open-ended and that the Council could stimulate the negotiations by putting some pressure on both sides. However, Russia has strongly opposed any attempt to assert pressure on both sides and affect negotiations in any way, since it maintains that the process must be Cypriot-led and Cypriot-owned for the results to be effective.     

During the negotiations on the latest mandate renewal resolution in July, the Council expressed strong support for the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of the mission and submit it to the Council. It seems likely that the Council will be equally supportive of the Secretary-General’s recommendations given that implementing them would not significantly change the mandate of the mission at this stage but rather make it more effective in implementing its tasks.   

The UK is the penholder on Cyprus.    

UN DOCUMENTS

Security Council Resolution
27 July 2017 S/RES/2369 This was a resolution which extended the mandate of UNFICYP for another six months.
Secretary-General’s Reports
28 November 2017 S/2017/1008 This was the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the UN mission in Cyprus.
28 September 2017 S/2017/814 This was a report on the Secretary-General’s mission of good offices in Cyprus.
Security Council Meeting Record
27 July 2017 S/PV.8014 This was a meeting on Cyprus during which the Council adopted resolution 2369.