What now in Cyprus?

What now in Cyprus?

U.N. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide will be presenting the Security Council an assessment of the past two years of the Cyprus peacemaking efforts, which ended last week in Crans-Montana with a crash landing. What will he say? Will he, like his boss, prefer to avoid placing the responsibility of the collapse on either side, or will he accuse the Greek Cypriots of intransigence? He will most likely take the first road. Yet, the Security Council will have to make a decision on the extension of the mandate of the U.N. Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which was first deployed in March 1964.

Naturally, over the long and not so successful history of the UNFICYP, many contributing countries have withdrawn, and the bulk of the burden of its cost had to be provided by Greek Cypriots, who for their own legitimacy still see benefits of the continued presence of it on Cyprus. No one expects the Security Council to terminate the mandate of the UNFICYP or the “goodwill mission” entrusted on the secretary-general even though a wide consensus emerged after the collapse in Crans-Montana that the Cyprus federation hopes crushed, a Cyprus deal within the U.N.’s parameters and under the auspices of the secretary-general cannot be achieved. If from 1964 the deployment of the UNFICYP till the 1974 Turkish intervention there have been numerous Greek Cypriot attacks on Turkish Cypriots, but since 1974 there has been no noteworthy violence between the two people of the island thanks to the presence of Turkish peacekeeping troops, is there indeed any need for continued presence of U.N. troops? Most likely, at least some members of the Security Council will raise the issue during Cyprus debates and try to save a date for an end to the UNFICYP.

Not only Turkish Cypriots but a large segment of Greek Cypriots, led by the Progressive Party of Working People (AKE), as well have been stressing support to the perception of the Greek Cypriot leader’s intransigence on “zero troops, zero guarantees” position that collapsed the talks despite Turkey’s acceptance to a phased out troop reduction down to 650, as foreseen by the 1960 treaties, and reconsideration of the future of the guarantee system in 15 years’ time.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades has been trying to make a U-turn with calls that he was ready to resume the talks within U.N. parameters and recklessly asking Turkish Cypriots to decide whether they want to unite with the Cyprus Republic or become an enclave of Turkey. Obviously, he was scared of the possibility of the U.N. putting the blame of the collapse on his intransigence and setting a date for the UNFICYP withdrawal. If there is no prospect of a Cyprus settlement, if Turkish troops enforce the 1974 cease-fire, and if there is no violence between the two zones in Cyprus, should there indeed be any need for U.N. peacekeepers?

While there has been no threat of violence on land, however, there might be serious deterioration and a surge in tensions in the sea if Greek Cypriots continue unilaterally to undertake drilling and exploring actions in total ignorance of the Turkish Cypriot partnership in natural resources on the island as well as within its exclusive economic area. Unilateral exploration and the use of natural resources in the island has always been a source of friction between the two sides.

ENI, ExxonMobil, and KOGAS have won offshore exploration licenses unilaterally from the Greek Cypriot administration. Total is preparing to launch deep water exploration drilling as of June 13. 

Though Turkey declared many times in the past that any company undertaking actions harmful to Turkish or Turkish Cypriot interests might be shunned from tenders in Turkey, Total’s president of exploration and production was quoted by the Greek Cypriot media as saying on the sidelines of an energy conference held in Istanbul that his company had “no concerns.”

Where will this standoff over the Mediterranean hydrocarbon resources and efforts by Greece and the Greek Cypriots cripple Turkey’s interests in the eastern Mediterranean through unilateral actions and bilateral agreements with littoral states lead to? That is, of course, a question bigger and more important than what will happen in the Cyprus talks.

Will the talks resume from where they were left in Crans-Montana? When? Is there any prospect of quick resumption? Obviously, if there is a problem, efforts to solve it cannot stop and we do still have a Cyprus problem. Yet concessions made over the past two years will further complicate prospects of a settlement in the new effort which I expect to come the earliest sometime in late summer of 2018. Success of that round will be doomed as well unless in the preparation stage the issue of Turkish troops, the guarantee system, and the effective participation in governance are adequately addressed and a new basis with realistic parameters are set for the talks…