Expected Council Action
In January 2019, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) ahead of its 31 January expiry. Special Representative and head of mission Elizabeth Spehar is expected to brief on the latest UNFICYP report and recent developments. A representative from the Department of Political Affairs might also brief.
Key Recent Developments
An impasse in the political process in Cyprus has continued since the breakdown of unification talks in the summer of 2017. Despite the prolonged stalemate on the political front, the Council has so far chosen not to initiate any significant changes to the mission’s mandate or its size. In July 2018, the Council adopted resolution 2430, which extended the mandate of UNFICYP in its current configuration for another six months. It also called on all sides to engage constructively with UN consultant Jane Holl Lute. The Secretary-General appointed Lute in July 2018 and directed her to consult with the parties and seek their reflections on the negotiation process.
In its July mandate renewal resolution, the Council requested the Secretary-General to report on his good offices in Cyprus, with the aim of getting more information about the outcome of Lute’s consultations with the parties. On 30 October 2018, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo briefed Council members in consultations on the 15 October 2018 report. The report lacked substantial information on Lute’s talks, however. The Secretary-General expressed his belief that there are still prospects for a comprehensive settlement, noting that an unchanging status quo is not sustainable and that the time of continued support for an open-ended process bearing no results was over, but refrained from imposing any timeframe for a political solution. He emphasised that before restarting negotiations, the sides should agree on the terms of reference to represent a starting point for a negotiated solution.
In December 2018, Lute held another round of consultations with the parties. She has continued to conduct her consultations in a low-key manner and has not made any public statements, but according to media reports, Lute was working with the Cypriot leaders on mutually acceptable terms of reference for the resumption of talks, with the goal of getting agreement on this by the end of 2018. While both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinçi, respectively, described their meetings with Lute as productive, no agreement had been reached at press time.
In his latest report, the Secretary-General warned that exploratory drilling for the hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus had the potential to raise tensions and have a negative effect on negotiations. In 2014, negotiations between the Cypriot leaders came to a standstill because of disagreement over this issue. The tensions rose again earlier this year after Turkey deployed naval warships to prevent planned drilling activities by the Italian energy company Eni in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. Turkey has claimed that it was protecting the rights of Turkish Cypriots, who are excluded from the process given that the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus concluded all the agreements on offshore drilling. In November 2018, Exxon Mobil started exploratory drilling offshore. Soon after, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasised in a statement that activities by international companies in Cyprus’ waters could have a negative effect on stability in the area.
In other developments, the Secretary-General announced on 8 November 2018 the appointment of Major General Cheryl Pearce (Australia) as the new Force Commander of UNFICYP. Pearce succeeds Major General Mohammad Humayun Kabir (Bangladesh), who had served in the position since July 2016.
Key Issues and Options
The Council’s primary concern regarding Cyprus remains the lack of progress in the unification talks and whether the Council should play a role in stimulating the process. Given the protracted impasse in the political process, an issue for the Council is whether to consider further changes to the mission’s mandate, including downsizing options and a possible exit strategy.
With Lute’s consultations with the parties characterised by a lack of public information around the substantive elements, Council members will be interested in hearing more about their outcome and on prospects for a political settlement, which will play a major role in guiding discussions on UNFICYP’s mandate renewal.
So far, the Council has been wary of initiating discussions about the specifics of mandate changes or possible downsizing of the mission, fearing a negative impact on the situation on the ground and on the political process. Council members could, however, be more open to these discussions during the mandate renewal upcoming in January 2019, especially if the current stalemate in unification talks persists.
Similar to other issues of low intensity on the Council’s agenda, only a few members with particular interest in the conflict follow the situation in Cyprus closely. These are mainly France, Russia and the UK, the latter also being one of the guarantor powers under the 1960 treaty guaranteeing the independence, territorial integrity, and security of Cyprus.
The US has become more engaged in efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem as the island gained prominence because of its hydrocarbon resources and the strategic importance of its location in relation to the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, as well as due to the growing security concerns overall in the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Council is united in its support for negotiations that would lead to a settlement, but members differ somewhat on the conditions and timeframe 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 pressure on both sides. However, Russia has strongly opposed any attempt to exert pressure on both sides and affect negotiations in any way, maintaining that the process must be Cypriot-led and Cypriot-owned in order to achieve lasting results.
During the July negotiations on the mandate renewal, the US seemed to have proposed adding to the draft resolution specific references to timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process, as well as a request for a comprehensive strategic review of the mission that would have evaluated every aspect of UNFICYP. These suggestions were not included in the final text of the resolution, however. In the absence of progress on the political front, it is likely that the US position will gain more support from other members who have so far been cautious on this issue. Russia is likely to continue to oppose any drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and troop numbers.
The UK is the penholder on Cyprus.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolution|
|26 July 2018S/RES/2430||This was a resolution, adopted unanimously, extending the mandate of UNFICYP for another six months until 31 January 2019.|
|15 October 2018S/2018/919||This was the Secretary-General’s report on his good offices in Cyprus.|
|14 June 2018S/2018/610||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the progress towards a settlement in Cyprus.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|26 July 2018S/PV.8317||This was a meeting at which the Council adopted resolution 2430, extending the mandate of UNFICYP for six months until 31 January 2019.|