Expected Council Action
In July, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) ahead of its 31 July expiry. Special Representative and head of mission Elizabeth Spehar is expected to brief on the latest UNFICYP report and recent developments.
Key Recent Developments
Following the breakdown of the unification talks in the summer of 2017, there have been no significant developments towards a solution of the Cyprus question. When the Council last met on Cyprus in January, it urged the parties and other participants to renew their commitment and political will towards a settlement. In resolution 2398 it extended the mandate of the mission and endorsed implementing the recommendations of the strategic review that was concluded in the fall of 2017. The resolution did not alter the mandate of the mission or make any significant changes to the troop numbers.
Also in January, the Republic of Cyprus held presidential elections. The incumbent president, Nicos Anastasiades, garnered the most votes in the first round but failed to secure the majority necessary to win outright. Nonetheless, he emerged victorious in the second round on 4 February. Leading up to the elections, Anastasiades had on several occasions voiced optimism that reunification talks would resume after the presidential elections. The impasse in settlement talks has continued, however.
The tensions arising from a long-standing dispute over hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus escalated again this year. Since the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus awarded drilling licenses to French and Italian energy companies Total and Eni several years ago, the companies have been conducting exploratory work off the coast of Cyprus. In February, the companies announced the discovery of commercially valuable natural gas reserves there. The same month, Turkey deployed naval warships to prevent planned drilling activities by Eni in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
Turkey has opposed drilling off the coast of Cyprus, because it claims control of some of the areas in question and because it says that it is protecting the rights of Turkish Cypriots, who are excluded from the process. The Turkish Cypriots have emphasised that both communities on the island should benefit from Cyprus’ hydrocarbon resources. This controversy has had an effect on unification talks and political dynamics on the island since the hydrocarbon resources discovery in 2011. In 2014, negotiations between the Cypriot leaders came to a standstill because of disagreement over this issue.
During remarks to the media following a 24 May meeting with Secretary-General António Guterres, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said that unification talks would not resume before the 24 June Turkish elections. He also expressed confidence in the Secretary-General’s appointment of the new Special Adviser who will facilitate the talks. Espen Barth Eide relinquished the post in August 2017 after the collapse of the most recent round of talks. In the interim, Spehar took on his responsibilities in her capacity as the Deputy Special Adviser. The Secretary-General has reiterated on several occasions that the UN stands ready to provide its good offices and facilitate the negotiations between the Cypriot leaders if they so request.
The Secretary-General published his report on progress towards a settlement in Cyprus on 14 June. As noted in the report, Spehar met with Cypriot leaders separately on several occasions, but the leaders have met directly only once, in April. The report said that there has been no further progress towards a settlement and that trust between the Cypriot leaders and their respective communities has declined. The Secretary-General has stated his intention to send a senior UN official to conduct consultations with the parties and get their reflections on the negotiation process. This would help determine whether there are conditions at the moment for a meaningful process.
Key Issues and Options
Among the current issues facing the Council, the most prominent is the renewal of UNFICYP’s mandate. An underlying issue remains the lack of progress in the unification talks and what role, if any, the Council should play to stimulate this process. Given the longevity of the mission and the inability of Cypriot leaders to achieve a final settlement in over 50 years, an issue for the Council is whether to consider significant changes to the mission’s mandate and examine downsizing options.
The Council has continued to be cautious in initiating or even discussing any significant changes to the mandate or the size of the mission, fearing a negative impact on the situation on the ground and on the political process. In January, the Council endorsed the recommendations from the strategic review of UNFICYP and made only minor adjustments to the mission’s size while maintaining the same mandate. Given the lack of progress in talks between the parties, the Council could consider options for scaling down the troop presence and even shortening the mission’s mandate to a period of three months to add a sense of urgency and send a message to the parties that the negotiation process should not be open-ended.
In the upcoming period, the Council will follow closely developments in the exploration of hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus, given that this issue has caused periodic tensions on the island and in the region.
Only Council members with a particular interest in this issue, most notably the UK, France and Russia, follow the situation in Cyprus closely. The US has become more engaged in efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem as the island gained more prominence because of its hydrocarbon resources and the strategic value of the location in relation to the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, as well as due to the growing overall security concerns in the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Council is united in its support for negotiations that would lead to the settlement of the Cyprus problem. Members differ somewhat, however, on the conditions and time-frame for the reunification talks. Some members, the UK in particular, seem frustrated by the protracted process. These members appear 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 exert pressure on both sides and affect negotiations in any way as it maintains that the process must be Cypriot-led and Cypriot-owned for the results to be effective.
The UK is the penholder on Cyprus.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolution|
|30 January 2018 S/RES/2398||This was a resolution renewing UNFICYP’s mandate until 31 July 2018.|
|14 June 2018 S/2018/610||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the progress towards a settlement in Cyprus.|
|28 November 2017 S/2017/1008||This was the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the UN mission in Cyprus.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|30 January 2018 S/PV.8168||This was the meeting at which resolution 2398 was adopted.|