Strong language over Cyprus but what next?

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Both Greece and (more importantly) the Republic of Cyprus were quite pleased by the wording and the leaked background of the U.N. Security Council condemnation of last week’s Turkish/Turkish-Cypriot announcement that part of the fenced-in Varosha suburb of Famagusta would be open for potential resettlement to all inhabitants who would accept to live under Turkish-Cypriot rule.

The statement issued by the (French) chair of the 15-member Security Council went further than the expected expression of UNSC concern over “the full respect and implementation of its Resolutions, including the transfer of Varosha to U.N. administration”; the language used included direct condemnation of the Turkish/Turkish Cypriot announcement about opening a small part of Varosha, calling for “immediate reversal” of such decision and terming “inadmissible” any attempt to settlement by people other than its inhabitants” (More than 15.000 people fled the area when Turkish military forces advanced towards Famagusta in July 1974. The re-opening of Varosha, even partly, is a double-pronged move: for one, a call to Greek-Cypriots to claim their dormant assets under Turkish administration; but also, for Turkish-Cypriots to settle vacant properties).

Information leaked about the background of the Security Council stated position says that the U.S. was instrumental in not letting language to be rounded in the final statement, following the closed-door briefing of the UNSC by UN Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar. U.S. Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken had already urged “a strong response”; compared to EU’s own Foreign Policy high representative Josep Borrell Tweeter condemnation of Turkey “risking raising tensions on the island”, the American position was clearly more advanced. Even more pronounced was the statement  of US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez over the issue, stating bluntly “simply put, Erdogan is no friend of the U.S. […]; it is incumbent on us to made sure the world is watching, and that Ankara is held accountable”. (Given that the US Senate is presently evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, the Biden Administration has an evident need to keep on board important personalities like Menendez).

The Turkish reaction was swift: “We reject the Statement made by the UNSC [as well as] the statements from various countries which are based on unfounded claims and inconsistent with realities on the island”. Even more relevant to the issue at hand is the Turkish statement that “UNSC resolutions are not above property and sovereign rights”: how does one back off from such a position?

So, now that language has been deployed to the full, the next steps will be closely watched. Will UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres resume efforts to find a negotiated solution over the Cyprus issue “based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation, with political equality” as is the regular mantra of the Security Council?  And can the Turkish-Cypriot/Turkish position be repelled? a position claiming that a two-State solution is the only way forward (along with “sovereign equality”)? Will the Cypriot Government really explore the possibility of a challenge against Turkey before the Council of Europe, or look for new avenues in front of the U.N. Security Council?

Plus, what will be the implication of all this on the effective future relations of the EU with Turkey? will the debate over sanctions to Ankara somehow resume, or will a “business as usual plus language” prevail? Could either Athens or Nicosia find the courage to block the EU “positive agenda” concerning Turkey in the near future?