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Crisis group says appointment of new UN Cyprus envoy imperative

The UN Secretary-General needs to appoint an envoy to draft a roadmap with sufficient incentives to bring both Greek and Turkish Cypriots back to the negotiating table, the International Crisis Group (ICG) says.

The ICG is an independent organisation “working to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world”.

The report on Cyprus came on the same day that UN peacekeepers were assaulted from the Turkish Cypriot side near the mixed village of Pyla in the buffer zone as they tried to prevent work on a road that would alter the status quo in the area.

In the case of Cyprus, the ICG said that UN efforts on Cyprus had  drifted since the collapse of talks in Crans-Montana in 2017 and that the positions of both sides would harden further without the appointment of an envoy.

The Group noted that the post for the senior UN official in reunification talks has been empty for almost two years and in that time relations between the two communities had worsened.

“It is difficult to see how the UN can help bring the parties back to negotiations if it does not appoint a new envoy for Cyprus,” the ICG said.

Secretary-General António Guterres has consulted with both sides on the issue repeatedly since 2021, and the Security Council gave unanimous support to the proposal in July.

The ICG said three main obstacles were stymying the Secretary-General’s efforts. One is substantive, relating to terms of reference for the position: Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders cannot agree whether the appointee should stick to diplomacy on existing formulas for reunification endorsed by the Security Council, or whether they could promote alternative solutions, such as an arrangement that formalises Turkish Cypriot sovereignty, which is a demand from the Turkish side. The Greek Cypriots would not accept this.

The second problem, according to the ICG concerns what the appointee’s job title should be, as both sides believe the nomenclature could circumscribe what the individual could do in future talks. A third, more fundamental, issue is that neither party believes that the other will necessarily negotiate in good faith even if an envoy is chosen.

“Guterres has refused to consider selecting an envoy unless the Greek and Turkish Cypriots can resolve the questions of terms of reference and job title. This lack of resolution is a recipe for deadlock as relations in Cyprus keep deteriorating,” the report said.

It added that Guterres has been exploring options for appointing such a higher-level mediator since 2021 but despite meeting both leaders in New York back then, it didn’t work.

“Since this breakdown, Guterres has made no further progress,” the ICG said.

In July, the Security Council encouraged him to appoint someone “as soon as possible”.

“Nonetheless, he has indicated that he cannot do so until the two sides come to a consensus on what this position would entail,” it added.

The ICG said the differences over the role of and goals for a new UN envoy underpin a second, more formalistic debate over the proposed senior official’s job title.

Both sides agree that while most recent lead UN mediators were designated as “Senior Adviser” to the Secretary-General, that title has passed its sell-by date, given its association with previous failed reunification efforts.

Most interested parties would like the new appointee to be known as an “envoy”. But exactly what sort of envoy remains a source of dissension. The Greek Cypriot leadership seems to be pushing for the appointee to be called a “Special Envoy of the Secretary-General”. By contrast, the Turkish Cypriot side appears to prefer “Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General”, the report said.

“The significance of this apparently minor difference in wording relates to the envoy’s freedom of manoeuvre,” it added.

Both sides believe that a “Special Envoy” would be bound by past Council resolutions on Cyprus and so be tied to achieving a bizonal, bicommunal federation. For the Greek Cypriot leadership, this is desirable, but the Turkish Cypriot side perceives it to impose constraints that take their preferred outcome off the table.

The Turkish Cypriots hope that a “Personal Envoy” of Guterres would not be similarly constrained and would have greater latitude to propose alternative ways forward, such as exploring models that elevate the status of Turkish Cypriots and grant them sovereign equality and equal international status.

“This exercise in semantics may be less important than the two sides believe,” the ICG said.

“Both sides have reasons to make concessions regarding the appointment of an envoy and to return to the table. For the Greek Cypriots, who worry about Ankara’s growing influence in the north and its impact on prospects for a settlement, getting back to talks sooner rather than later would have important benefits. For the Turkish Cypriots, UN-led talks are the one prominent multilateral venue where they are treated on an equal footing with the Republic of Cyprus, which gives them a powerful incentive to work with the Secretary-General,” it added.

Referring to the Greek Cypriot side’s proposal for an EU envoy, the ICG said this would be anathema to the Turkish side as Cyprus and Greece are members of the bloc.

“Some also worry that parallel appointments of EU and UN diplomats would make for a crowded playing field and could lead to power struggles between the two,” the ICG said.

For its part, the EU, while not directly addressing the proposal to appoint an envoy, has offered to “play an active role” in supporting the UN-led processes, most recently in a June EU Council meeting.

“The current light-touch model for UN engagement in Cyprus is not leading the conflict toward resolution,” the ICG notes.

To break the deadlock, it added, the Secretary-General should aim to appoint a new envoy for Cyprus to develop a roadmap to talks, with incentives that will attract both sides back to the table factoring in all of the issues including each sides’ positions, an envoy’s background, job title and terms of reference acceptable to both sides.

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