Expected Council Action
In November, the Secretary-General is due to present to the Council the report on his good offices in Cyprus as requested by resolution 2483. Council members are expected to receive a briefing from a representative of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.
The mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) expires on 31 January 2020.
Key Recent Developments
Tensions between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey intensified over the long-standing issue of hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus. Over the past few months, Turkey has deployed several vessels in the area and has started hydrocarbon exploration and drilling activities. The Republic of Cyprus claims that Turkey’s activities within its exclusive economic zone constitute a breach of international law. Turkey says its exploration activities are conducted in the area of its continental shelf and are therefore legitimate. Besides, Turkey has maintained that it would protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots and that they are also entitled to receive benefits from the hydrocarbon resources.
On several occasions between June and July, the EU condemned Turkey’s exploration and drilling, calling the activities illegitimate. In early October, tensions rose further when Turkey deployed one of its drilling ships in one of the areas where the Republic of Cyprus has already given exploration rights to international oil companies. During the 14 October meeting of the EU Council, agreement was reached to sanction those involved in illegal drilling activities off the coast of Cyprus. The EU Council asked the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the EU Commission to present proposals to this end. At press time, there were no specific details about possible individuals or entities that will be sanctioned.
On 9 October, Council members were briefed in consultations on the situation in Cyprus by Assistant Secretary-General Oscar for Peacebuilding Support Fernandez-Taranco. The meeting, requested by the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, focused primarily on the status of Varosha. The Republic of Cyprus has claimed that threats by Turkey and Turkish Cypriot authorities to change the status of Varosha run contrary to Council resolutions on Cyprus.
Varosha, which is a beach resort suburb of the city of Famagusta, is on the Turkish Cypriot side of the buffer zone, a demilitarised area separating Turkish Cypriots in the north from Greek Cypriots in the south. The residents, who were predominantly Greek Cypriots, fled Varosha in 1974 after Turkish military forces intervened on the island following a coup d’état by Greek officers of the Cyprus National Guard. Since then, Varosha has remained unpopulated and closed to the public. It is under the control of the Turkish military. In resolutions 550 and 789 the Council has called for the transfer of Varosha’s administration to the UN force.
After the 9 October meeting, the Council adopted a press statement that recalled the importance of the status of Varosha as described in previous Council resolutions and “reiterated that no actions should be carried out in relation to Varosha that are not in accordance with those resolutions”.
While there was some limited activity on the political front, the unification talks have remained at an impasse since July 2017. On 9 August, Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar hosted a meeting between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinçi. In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the two leaders expressed their readiness to hold a joint meeting with the Secretary-General and also agreed to continue their engagement with Jane Holl Lute, a senior UN official appointed by the Secretary-General to conduct consultations, on finalising the terms of reference for the negotiations.
The Secretary-General has emphasised that before resuming negotiations the sides should agree on the terms of reference to represent a starting point for a negotiated solution. Lute has engaged in a series of separate discussions with the Cypriot leaders on finding agreement on the terms of reference. So far, Lute has kept a low profile and has not released any substantive details about her discussions.
Key Issues and Options
The absence of a meaningful political process remains the central issue for the Council. In addressing this, the Council could consider playing a more proactive role in stimulating that process. In light of the enduring stalemate, the Council could consider changing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, including seeking options for downsizing and a possible exit strategy.
Developments surrounding the political process have generally played an important role in guiding Council discussions during mandate renewal negotiations. Although Lute has been engaged in talks with the parties, the Council has not received detailed information about their progress. Given the sensitivities involved, the Council could consider requesting a closed meeting with Lute about the prospects for the political process.
The Council will continue to monitor the rising tensions off the coast of Cyprus. This issue has the potential to damage prospects for the political process as well as the security situation on the island.
Cyprus remains an issue of low intensity on the Council’s agenda. Among 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 during 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 growing overall concerns about security in the eastern Mediterranean region.
Council members 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 to achieve lasting results.
The US has emphasised that peacekeeping missions must support political processes and that the Council should reconsider the mandates of missions where the political process is absent. Given the lack of progress on the political front in Cyprus, the US has supported a comprehensive strategic review of the mission and timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process. Some members are still wary of initiating drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and size. In the absence of progress, the US position is likely to 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|
|25 July 2019S/RES/2483||The Council unanimously adopted resolution 2483 which extended the mandate of UNFICYP in its current configuration until 31 January 2020.|
|25 November 1992S/RES/789||This resolution endorsed the Secretary-General’s set of ideas for Cyprus reunited as a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with a single, indivisible sovereignty.|
|11 May 1984S/RES/550||This resolution further condemned Northern Cyprus.|
|10 July 2019S/2019/562||This was a report on UNFICYP.|
|16 April 2019S/2019/322||This was the report of the Secretary-General on his good offices.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|9 October 2019SC/13980||This statement reiterated the importance of the status of Varosha as set out in previous Security Council resolutions.|