January 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 December 2022
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EUROPE

Cyprus

Expected Council Action

In January 2023, Security Council members are expected to receive a briefing in consultations on the situation in Cyprus. Special Representative and head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Colin Stewart is expected to brief. The Council is expected to renew UNFICYP’s mandate ahead of its 31 January 2023 expiry.

Key Recent Developments

Over the past six months, there has been no meaningful progress on the political front and no direct formal engagement between the Cypriot leaders in the context of unification talks, which have been stalled since the collapse of negotiations at Crans-Montana in July 2017. Efforts to reinvigorate the political process have failed to establish an agreement between the two delegations to proceed with formal negotiations.

From 17 to 18 November 2022, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and America Miroslav Jenča visited the island and held separate meetings with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. At the meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades on 17 November, Jenča reiterated the Secretary-General’s commitment “to stay engaged in the process searching for common ground and finding understanding to move forward the issue of settlement”. Anastasiades remains firmly committed to a settlement based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation (BBF) with political equality, as stipulated in previous Security Council resolutions, while Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar insists on a two-state solution based on sovereign equality.

On 16 September 2022, the US announced that it would lift an arms embargo on the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus, starting in 2023. The defence trade restrictions have been in place since 1987. The press statement, issued by US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price, contends that the Republic of Cyprus “has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation” to allow for the arms embargo’s removal, noting the Greek Cypriots’ cooperation on financial regulatory oversight and its commitment to “deny Russian military vessels access to ports for refueling and servicing”. Ankara strongly condemned the move and pledged to provide the Turkish Cypriots with greater military support. In a 17 September statement, the foreign ministry of Türkiye suggested that the US decision would “negatively affect efforts to resettle the Cyprus issue” and “lead to an arms race on the island”.

Turkish Cypriot authorities reportedly submitted a Status of Forces Agreement proposal to the UN in September 2022, requesting that UNFICYP enter into a formal agreement with the Turkish Cypriots in order to continue its presence and operations in northern Cyprus. The UN’s presence on the island is currently enabled through an agreement between the UN and the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus. On 6 October, Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu threatened to evict UNFICYP from northern Cyprus, asserting that “either they sign a military agreement with the [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus] or they leave”.

Tensions between the Republic of Cyprus and Türkiye resurfaced over the long-standing issue of hydrocarbon resources off the coast of Cyprus. On 9 August 2022, Türkiye dispatched its fifth ship to explore for oil off the coast of Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus has claimed that Türkiye’s activities within its exclusive economic zone constitute a breach of international law. Türkiye argues that its exploration activities are in the area of its continental shelf and are therefore legitimate. Türkiye 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 announcement by Turkish authorities prompted the European Council on 8 November to extend its sanctions framework, authorised in 2019, in response to Türkiye’s “unauthorized drilling activities”. The EU has repeatedly condemned Türkiye’s exploration and drilling activities, calling them illegitimate.

Key Issues and Options

Since the collapse of the 2017 unification talks, the key issue for the Security Council has been the lack of meaningful progress on the political front and the diminishing prospects for reaching a political settlement of the Cyprus problem. Given the current deadlock, the Council may wish to urge the parties to reach an agreement regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal to appoint a UN envoy on Cyprus to succeed Jane Holl Lute, who resigned in September 2021. While the Council may reiterate its firm commitment to a peaceful settlement based on a framework of BBF with political equality, it could also reassure the parties that the envoy will not be constrained in their search for common ground for the resumption of talks.

Another issue for the Security Council is how to ensure that both sides reduce existing barriers to intercommunal contact to improve the public atmosphere for negotiating a peaceful settlement. In this regard, the Council may call on the leaders to develop a joint communication strategy and urge that the action plan ensures women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace talks. They may also encourage robust engagement with women and youth organisations, led by the Technical Committee on Gender Equality, to broaden the inclusivity of the peace talks and advance reconciliation and peacebuilding objectives.

Another key issue for the Council is establishing a direct military contact mechanism between the parties, facilitated by UNFICYP. In renewing UNFICYP’s mandate in January 2023, the Council may decide to encourage the parties to approach negotiations on the basis of “engagement without recognition” and undertake significant confidence-building measures, which could help facilitate the resumption of negotiations.

Council Dynamics

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. Some members have previously supported a comprehensive strategic review of the mission and timed benchmarks for an exit strategy tied to the political process. Russia remains adamant that there be no external interference or attempts to enforce solutions and schedules to influence the peace talks.

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
Secretary-General’s Reports
5 July 2022S/2022/533 This was a report on UNFICYP.
5 July 2022S/2022/534 This was the report of the Secretary-General on the UN’s good offices mission in Cyprus.

 

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