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 the Council on the latest UNFICYP report, as well as recent developments, in closed consultations. A representative from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs may also brief.
Key Recent Developments
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, Jane Holl Lute, engaged in diplomatic efforts in early 2021 to promote conditions conducive to resuming the peace talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides. Initially planned for early March, the informal five-plus-one meeting took place from 27 to 29 April in Geneva. The meeting convened the leaders of the two Cypriot sides, representatives of the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and the UK) and UN Secretary-General António Guterres. It marked the first direct negotiations between the two parties since the collapse of the previous talks at Crans-Montana in 2017. The objective of the meeting was to find common ground on a general framework from which to commence formal negotiations.
At the meeting, the Greek Cypriot delegation continued from where it had left off in Crans-Montana, asserting its firm commitment to achieving a settlement based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation (BBF) with political equality as stipulated in previous Security Council resolutions, the Joint Declaration of 2014 and the Secretary-General’s six-point framework. The Turkish Cypriot delegation unveiled its own proposal that called on the Security Council to adopt a resolution establishing equal international status and sovereign equality for the two sides as a prerequisite for formal negotiations. Arguing that negotiations based on the BBF model had been exhausted, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar claimed that he was seeking to revitalise the peace talks by introducing a novel approach based on a two-state paradigm.
Although no common ground was established to proceed with formal negotiations, Secretary-General Guterres welcomed the commitment of the two Cypriot sides to reconvene the five-plus-one group in the near future. Initially envisioned for June or July, the next informal summit on the Cyprus dispute may materialise in the latter half of 2021.
On 30 May, the Greek Cypriot side held parliamentary elections to elect 56 members of its House of Representatives. President Nicos Anastasiades’ Democratic Rally (DYSI) secured 27.8 percent of the vote, followed by the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) with 22.3 percent. Notably, the National Popular Front (ELAM) became the fourth largest political party on the Greek Cypriot side with 6.8 percent of the vote. With a platform that rejects reunification of the island, ELAM’s emergence on the political scene may complicate future attempts to secure a solution based on the existing BBF parameters.
Restrictions on free movement between the two sides were lifted in early June. Throughout 2020, policies aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 rendered the buffer zone impassable. According to the latest report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the question of human rights in Cyprus, closures of the crossing points posed considerable challenges not only to movement across the buffer zone but also to bi-communal relations and trust-building activities. The recent lifting of restrictions may contribute to re-establishing trust and fostering interdependence between the two sides.
There have been positive developments with regard to the work of the 12 bi-communal technical committees, which are responsible for boosting confidence and communication between the two sides and improving the living conditions of Cypriots. During the pandemic, numerous projects and in-person activities were suspended. While meetings were eventually moved online, they were held far less frequently. The resumption of the committees’ in-person meetings fosters effective delivery of vital confidence-building measures.
Key Issues and Options
Since the collapse of the 2017 unification talks in Crans-Montana, a key issue for the Security Council had been the lack of meaningful progress on the political front and the diminishing prospects for reaching a political settlement of the Cyprus problem.
In renewing the UNFICYP mandate in July, the Council may decide to encourage the Secretary-General to continue efforts aimed at laying the groundwork for formal peace negotiations to commence.
Since Council members have received few, if any, substantial details about Special Envoy Lute’s engagement with the parties, they may consider holding a closed meeting with her ahead of the mandate renewal. The meeting could focus on the prospects for progress on the political track, particularly in light of the commitment expressed by both Cypriot sides for a subsequent informal five-plus-one gathering.
Another important issue for the Council is how to approach the two-state proposal of the Turkish Cypriot delegation, which runs counter to the parameters set out in previous Security Council resolutions that urge both sides to consider a settlement based on the BBF model. While it is uncertain how the Council will react to this development, Council members will likely retain language on the existing parameters when renewing the UNFICYP mandate.
Tensions over hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus are likely to continue to be a source of 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. Turkey’s decision to refrain from resuming its drilling exploration in the eastern Mediterranean—a key factor in its improved relations with the EU—is likely to alleviate concerns for the time being.
Cyprus remains a low-intensity issue on the Council’s agenda. Council members with a vested interest in Cyprus include France, Russia and the UK. In addition to being a guarantor power, the UK also serves as the penholder on this issue.
While the Council is united in its support for the political process, members diverge on the conditions and timeframe for the unification talks. The US has previously supported a comprehensive strategic review of the mission and timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process, but it is unlikely to suggest any changes to the status quo considering the renewed attempts at negotiations by the two Cypriot parties. Furthermore, Russia remains adamant that there be no external interference or attempts to enforce solutions and schedules to influence the peace talks. It views UNFICYP not as an instrument to exert political pressure but as one intended to foster security and monitor compliance with the buffer zone.
Given the renewed efforts by the Cypriot sides to resume direct negotiations, the Council is unlikely to initiate drastic changes to the mission’s mandate and size. Council members will encourage the Secretary-General to continue working with the parties to find common ground for formal negotiations to commence.
UN DOCUMENTS ON CYPRUS
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 January 2021S/RES/2561||This resolution extended the mandate of UNFICYP for another six months.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|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.|
|8 January 2021S/2021/4||This was a report on UNFICYP.|
|8 January 2021S/2021/5||This was the report of the Secretary-General on his mission of good offices in Cyprus.|