Expected Council Action
In January 2020, 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 and Peacebuilding Affairs may also brief.
Key Recent Developments
The Council is approaching another UNFICYP mandate renewal in January, which will take place against the backdrop of a lack of any meaningful developments on the political front. While the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders maintained limited engagement with each other in 2019, the unification talks remain at an impasse since the collapse of the latest round of negotiations in July 2017.
In an effort to invigorate the political process, Secretary-General António Guterres hosted an informal meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinçi in Berlin on 25 November 2019. In a statement issued after the meeting, Guterres said that the Cypriot leaders agreed that the current status quo is not sustainable and they both stressed the importance of reaching a solution to the Cyprus issue within a foreseeable timeframe. Guterres also noted that he would be willing to explore the possibility of organising an informal meeting with Cypriot parties and the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and the UK).
Four days before the Berlin meeting, Council members discussed in consultations the latest Secretary-General’s report on his good offices in Cyprus. Following the meeting, they agreed on press elements in which they welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative to host a meeting in Berlin and called on the Cypriot leaders to build on previous convergences and renew their commitment to settle the Cyprus issue.
The Secretary-General’s good offices report did not contain any substantial information on the political process beyond what has been reported in the media. The Secretary-General has been explicit in this and his previous reports that before starting negotiations, the leaders should first agree on the terms of reference, which would represent a starting point for a negotiated solution. During the reporting period, Jane Holl Lute, who was appointed by the Secretary-General to conduct preliminary consultations, has continued her interactions with the Cypriot parties on finalising the terms of reference. The Secretary-General, however, did not provide any details about the contents of Lute’s discussions with the parties.
The Republic of Cyprus and Turkey remain locked in a dispute over the exploration of hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus. Over the past few months, Turkey has deployed several of its vessels in the area to start 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 in the area of its continental shelf and are therefore legitimate. Turkey has also maintained that it will protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots and that they are entitled to receive benefits from the hydrocarbon resources.
The EU has repeatedly condemned Turkey’s exploration and drilling activities, calling them illegitimate. The EU Council has agreed to sanction those involved in illegal activities off the coast of Cyprus. In early December 2019, the EU foreign ministers agreed on a legal framework for the sanctions, paving the way for targeting specific individuals and entities which, at press time, have not been designated. The Republic of Cyprus has also sought legal recourse on this matter and in December filed an application against Turkey before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Turkey does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction.
Key Issues and Options
At the moment, the Council is primarily concerned with the lack of substantial progress in the unification talks and remote prospects for advancing the political settlement of the Cyprus problem. In addressing this, the Council could consider taking a more proactive approach to revitalising the process. One option would be to explore changing the mandate of UNFICYP, including options for downsizing and a possible exit strategy.
Developments related to the broader political process have traditionally played a crucial role in guiding the negotiations on the mandate renewal. For over a year, Lute has been consulting with the parties on the way forward in that process. So far, Council members have received few, if any, substantial details about Lute’s engagement with the parties. Ahead of the mandate renewal in January, the Council could consider holding a private meeting with Lute on the prospects for progress on the political track.
Tensions over hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus are of growing concern for the Council. As was the case in the past, these tensions can affect the political process negatively and carry potential risks for the security situation in the region.
Notwithstanding the impasse in unification talks, Council members are consistent in their support for a negotiated solution to the Cyprus issue and the Secretary-General’s efforts to that end. Given that this issue has been on the Council’s agenda for decades, some members appear to be frustrated by the seemingly indefinite nature of this process. Members seem to diverge on the conditions and timeframe for the reunification talks. Some seem 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.
The US has emphasised that peacekeeping missions must support political processes and that the Council should reconsider the mandates of missions where progress on the political track is absent. During past mandate renewal negotiations, the US has supported a comprehensive strategic review of the mission and timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process. On the other hand, Russia has strongly opposed any attempt to exert pressure on either side and affect negotiations in any way, maintaining that the process must be Cypriot-led and Cypriot-owned to achieve lasting results. Most Council members seem wary of initiating drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and size. In the absence of progress in unification talks, the US position might gain more support from other members who have been cautious on this issue. Russia is likely to oppose any changes to the status quo.
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.|
|14 November 2019S/2019/883||This was the Secretary-General’s report on his good offices in Cyprus.|
|16 April 2019S/2019/322||This was the report of the Secretary-General on his good offices.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|9 October 2019SC/13980||This statement reiterated the importance of the status of Varosha as set out in previous Security Council resolutions.|
|27 February 2019SC/13722||Council members issued a press statement welcoming the 26 February meeting between Cypriot leaders.|