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. A representative from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs might also brief.
Key Recent Developments
The exploration for hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus continues to be a sensitive issue. In February, ExxonMobil announced the discovery of significant new natural gas reserves in those waters. In May, Turkey announced that it would start drilling for hydrocarbons in areas that the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus considers its territorial waters. Turkey has maintained that it would protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots and that they should also benefit from the hydrocarbon resources. The EU, of which Cyprus is a member, called on Turkey to show restraint and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus in its exclusive economic zone.
There have been no significant developments on the political front in the last months. Negotiations have remained at an impasse since summer 2017, when the most recent round of unification talks broke down in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Despite the lack of progress on the political front, the Council has refrained from altering the mission’s mandate or its configuration.
A year ago, the Secretary-General appointed a consultant, former senior UN official Jane Holl Lute, to engage with the parties and seek their reflections on the negotiating process. In the latest report on his good offices issued in April, the Secretary-General said he would request Lute to continue discussions with the parties to obtain a better understanding of the extent of their convergence on core issues and the willingness of the sides to integrate new proposals. Prospects for a negotiated settlement exist, he said, noting that “the horizon of an endless process without results lay behind us”. He stressed that, before starting negotiations, the leaders should agree on terms of reference to represent a starting point for a negotiated solution.
The Council held closed consultations on 2 May to discuss the report and recent developments in Cyprus. Following the meeting, Council members issued press elements in which they welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to ask Lute to continue her consultations. They emphasised the urgent need to work toward a political settlement and urged both sides to agree on terms of reference for result-orientated negotiations. Council members also stressed the need to avoid any actions that could jeopardise the chances of success and urged the implementation and further development of confidence-building measures.
Cypriot leaders held one meeting this year under UN auspices, on 26 February. The leaders agreed on further confidence-building measures, which the Council welcomed in a press statement issued a day later.
Women, Peace and Security-Related Developments
UNFYCIP is the first-ever UN peacekeeping mission to have women leading the military, police and civilian components. In addition to Spehar as head of mission, Major General Cheryl Pearce is the Force Commander, and Ann-Kristin Kvilekval is UNFYCIP’s Senior Police Adviser.
Key Issues and Options
A central issue for the Council remains the lack of tangible progress in unification talks and whether the Council should play any role in stimulating this process. Given the prolonged hiatus in the political process, an option for the Council is to consider changes to the mission’s mandate, including downsizing, and a possible exit strategy.
Although Lute has been engaged in consultations with the parties for almost one year, the Council has yet to receive substantial information on these discussions. Developments surrounding the political process are likely to play a major role in guiding the Council’s discussions during the mandate renewal negotiations. In this context, the Council could consider requesting a briefing by Lute on the prospects for a political settlement.
The Council will follow closely developments surrounding hydrocarbon resources in Cyprus’ coastal waters, given that they could also have an impact on the island’s political process.
Cyprus remains an issue of low intensity on the Council’s agenda. Among the members with a special interest in Cyprus that follow the issue closely are France, Russia, and the UK. The latter is also one of the guarantor powers under the 1960 treaty guaranteeing the independence, territorial integrity, and security of Cyprus.
The 2011 discovery of hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus has brought increased attention to the island over the past several years. The US has become more engaged in finding a political solution to the Cyprus problem, given the island’s location and strategic importance in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East as well as the growing overall concerns about security in the eastern Mediterranean region.
The members of the Council are united in their support for a negotiated solution to the Cyprus issue. Members seem to diverge however, on the conditions and timeframe for reunification talks. With the protracted impasse in those talks, some members appear to share the view that this process cannot be open-ended and that the Council could apply pressure on the parties to revive the negotiations. On the other hand, 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 negotiations on the mandate renewal in 2018 and 2019, the US appeared to advocate for a comprehensive strategic review of the mission and timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process. These proposals were not included in any of the recent resolutions, however. Some members are still wary of initiating drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and size. 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 about this issue. Russia is likely to oppose any changes to the status quo.
The UK is the penholder on Cyprus.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolutions
|30 January 2019S/RES/2453
|The Council extended the mandate of UNFICYP for another six months.
|16 April 2019S/2019/322
|This was the report of the Secretary-General on his good offices.
|Security Council Press Statements
|27 February 2019SC/13722
|Council members issued a press statement welcoming the 26 February meeting between Cypriot leaders.