Expected Council Action
In January, 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 likely to brief on the latest UNFICYP report and recent developments in a closed videoconference. A representative from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs may also brief.
Key Recent Developments
Initially scheduled for April 2020, the presidential elections in northern Cyprus were postponed until October 2020 because of restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. After two rounds of voting, Ersin Tatar defeated incumbent Mustafa Akinçi to become the new Turkish Cypriot leader. The candidates’ positions on the political solution to the Cyprus issue played a central role during the campaign. Considered a moderate, Akinçi has been in favour of seeking reconciliation with the Greek Cypriots and has openly supported a federal solution to the Cyprus issue. By contrast, Tatar campaigned on a platform of exploring the possibility of a two-state solution and favouring closer relations with Turkey.
On 3 November 2020, Spehar hosted an informal meeting between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Tatar. This was the first meeting between the two as the respective leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities. The meeting aimed to provide an opportunity for the Cypriot leaders to get acquainted and engage in an informal exchange of views on the political process. According to a press release issued by UNFICYP after the meeting, both Tatar and Anastasiades indicated that they would respond positively to the Secretary-General’s commitment to exploring the possibility of an informal meeting with the guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and the UK) and the UN at an appropriate time.
The political process in Cyprus remains at an impasse since the latest round of negotiations broke down in July 2017. In 2020, engagement between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders has been further limited by the COVID-19 pandemic and in anticipation of the election in Northern Cyprus. On 1 December, Jane Holl Lute–who since 2018 has been serving as a special envoy of the Secretary-General on the Cyprus dispute–visited Cyprus. Lute, whose core task is to consult with the Cypriot parties on finalising the terms of reference expected to serve as a basis for future negotiations, held separate meetings with Anastasiades and Tatar. In line with established practice, she has not made any public statements or comments on the substance of her discussions. According to media reports, both leaders reaffirmed their willingness to participate in an informal meeting with the guarantor powers hosted by the Secretary-General.
On 9 October 2020, the Council held in-person consultations on Cyprus. The catalyst for the meeting, requested by the Republic of Cyprus, was the decision by the Turkish Cypriot authorities to open the beach and coastline of Varosha city to the public. Varosha is located on the Turkish Cypriot side of the buffer zone, a demilitarised area separating Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south. The residents, who were predominantly Greek Cypriots, fled the city in 1974 after Turkish military forces intervened on the island following a coup d’état in Cyprus by Greek officers who were members of the Cyprus National Guard. Since then, Varosha has remained unpopulated and closed to the public. The city is under the control of the Turkish military, and UNFICYP supervises the ceasefire and maintains the buffer zone. The status of Varosha, which has remained disputed since 1974, is an important part of the greater unification talks.
The Council has pronounced itself on Varosha on several occasions, saying that it considers inadmissible any efforts to populate Varosha with people other than its original inhabitants and calling for the area to be transferred to UN administration. During the 9 October meeting, the Council adopted a presidential statement in which it reaffirmed the status of Varosha as set out in previous Council resolutions and called on the sides in Cyprus and the guarantor powers to engage in dialogue.
On 16 November 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Northern Cyprus, including the city of Varosha. In his remarks to the media, Erdoğan reiterated Turkey’s support for a two-state solution to the Cyprus issue. Erdoğan’s visit and comments drew criticism from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who reiterated that there was no alternative to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem based on relevant Security Council resolutions.
Key Issues and Options
Since the collapse of the most recent round of unification talks in 2017, the Council has primarily been concerned with the lack of any meaningful progress on the political front and the diminishing prospects for advancing a political settlement of the Cyprus problem anytime soon. Although the Council has taken the view that the primary responsibility for finding a solution lies with the Cypriot sides, it could consider taking a more proactive approach to stimulate the process. An option would be to explore changing the mandate of UNFICYP, including seeking options for downsizing and for a possible exit strategy.
The newly elected Turkish Cypriot leader openly favours a two-state solution. This runs contrary to the parameters set in previous Council resolutions, which reaffirmed support for a settlement based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality.
Developments related to the broader political process have traditionally played a crucial role in guiding negotiations on the mandate renewal. While Lute has been engaged in a series of consultations with the parties on the way forward, Council members have received few, if any, substantial details about that engagement. Ahead of the mandate renewal in January, the Council could consider holding a private meeting with Lute about the prospects for progress on the political track.
Tensions over hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus are a growing concern for the Council. As was the case in the past, these tensions could affect the political process negatively and carry potential risks for the security situation in the region.
Cyprus remains a low–intensity issue 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 UK is also one of the guarantor powers under the 1960 treaty guaranteeing the independence, territorial integrity, and security of Cyprus.
While the Council is united in its support for the political process, members diverge somewhat on the conditions and timeframe for the unification 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. 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.
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. It remains uncertain whether the new US administration will dramatically shift position on Cyprus in general and UNFICYP in particular.
Most Council members seem wary of initiating drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and size. In the absence of progress in the unification talks, the US position might gain more support from other members that have been cautious on this issue. Russia is likely to oppose any changes to the status quo.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolution|
|28 July 2020S/RES/2537||This resolution extended the mandate of UNFICYP for another six months.|
|13 July 2020S/2020/685||This was the report on good offices in Cyprus.|
|10 July 2020S/2020/682||This was report on UNFICYP.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|9 October 2020S/PRST/2020/9||This presidential statement reaffirmed the status of Varosha as set out in previous Council resolutions and called on the sides in Cyprus and the guarantor powers to engage in dialogue.|