UNFICYP Mandate Renewal*
Tomorrow afternoon (29 January), the Security Council president (Tunisia) is expected to read the results of the written voting procedure on a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another six months. The UK, the penholder on this issue, circulated the draft resolution to all Council members on 19 January, and members held one round of negotiations three days later. After passing silence on Wednesday (27 January), the draft was put in blue.
In line with previous practice, the draft resolution draws heavily on the core elements of the last mandate renewal resolution (resolution 2537 of 28 July 2020). As a result, UNFICYP’s mandate remains largely the same, reflecting widespread support in the Council for the current work of the mission. Some language was modified to reflect recent developments, however. Notwithstanding some differences among Council members on some specific issues, the negotiations appear to have concluded without major disagreements.
The political process in Cyprus has traditionally been the central focus of UNFICYP mandate renewal negotiations. Since the collapse of talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot parties in July 2017, there has been no progress on the political front. The main parameters for the settlement of the Cyprus issue, which the Council endorsed in its previous outcomes, are based on a bi-zonal, bicommunal federation with political equality for the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. While the Greek Cypriot leadership still supports this approach, the Turkish Cypriot leadership has signalled that it is open to exploring new approaches. After winning the October 2020 elections, the new Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar has openly advocated for a solution based on the concept of equal sovereignty (that is, a two-state solution).
The draft resolution extends the Council’s support for the decision of the Secretary-General to convene an informal meeting which would gather both sides in Cyprus and the guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and the UK) in a “five plus UN” format. The Secretary-General’s stated aim for this meeting is to pave the way for the resumption of talks to achieve a settlement to the Cyprus problem within the foreseeable future. Both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have expressed readiness to take part in an informal five plus UN meeting. The Greek Cypriot side has emphasised that it is determined to participate in the meeting “on the basis of relevant Security Council resolutions and a bizonal, bicommunal federation”. On the other hand, the Turkish Cypriot side has noted that this meeting would offer an opportunity to provide new ideas for the settlement of the Cyprus issue.
During the negotiations on the draft resolution, it seems that most Council members expressed their support for retaining language on the parameters for the talks based on a just settlement founded on a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as endorsed in previous Council resolutions. It appears that most members thought it important that the Council remain committed to its established position. While the draft expresses support for the established parameters, it also urges the sides and all involved participants to approach the five plus UN talks “in the spirit of openness, flexibility and compromise”.
The draft resolution contains expanded language on the status of Varosha, the city located on the Turkish Cypriot side of the buffer zone, a demilitarised area separating the two sides on the island. It expresses serious concern over continued violations of the military status quo, while calling on parties to respect UNFICYP’s mandated authority in the buffer zone. Furthermore, the draft calls on the Secretary-General to report to the Council any actions that hinder the ability of the mission to carry out its mandate.
In October 2020, Turkish Cypriot authorities formally opened a part of the beachfront in Varosha to the public for the first time since 1974. The Secretary-General has expressed concern over the reopening of Varosha and reiterated that the UN position on this issue is guided by relevant Security Council resolutions. On 9 October 2020, Council members discussed this issue in consultations. The Council subsequently adopted a presidential statement that reaffirmed the status of Varosha, as set out in previous Council resolutions, including resolutions 550 (1984) and 789 (1992). Furthermore, the Council reiterated that “no actions should be carried out in relation to Varosha that are not in accordance with those resolutions”. The draft resolution in blue has incorporated some elements of the October 2020 presidential statement.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the draft resolution urges the sides to enhance their coordination to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It calls on both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to agree on the reopening of crossing points, which the Council views as an important confidence-building measure. Furthermore, the draft emphasises the importance of ensuring that any restrictions of movement imposed to prevent the spread of the virus do not go beyond what is necessary to protect public health.
Other issues raised in the draft resolution include: a call for a reduction of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean over hydrocarbon resources, and regret over the lack of progress in establishing an effective mechanism for direct military contacts between the sides.
*Post-script: On 29 January, the Security Council president (Tunisia) read the results of the written voting procedure for resolution 2561, which was adopted unanimously and extended the mandate of UNFICYP for another six months.