Case Studies | The 2015–2017 negotiations to reunify Cyprus

Ryan Conner

Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, British Army, stand guard at the entrance to the U.N. camp at Kophinou village, located between Limassol and Larnaca.
Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, British Army, stand guard at the entrance to the U.N. camp at Kophinou village, located between Limassol and Larnaca. (Image: Brian Harrington Spier on Flickr)

The U.N. Security Council’s mandate of the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is due for renewal this month. Despite the continued presence of UNFICYP on the island, the United Nations has otherwise failed to advance political talks on the reunification of Cyprus. The latest round of formal negotiations ended in July 2017. Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı met in Berlin in November 2019 at a U.N.-facilitated conference, where they affirmed their commitment to reaching a settlement. However, according to Security Council Report, the leaders of each community remain at an impasse: where Anastasiades supports “a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality,” first delineated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 716 (1991), the new Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar desires “a two-state solution based on sovereign equality.”

The United Nations has facilitated several rounds of negotiations since 1974, but each round has ended in failure. The island has been divided for decades mainly between Greek Cypriots in the south — who form the Republic of Cyprus, first created in 1960 and now internationally recognized as a member of the European Union — and Turkish Cypriots in the north — who form the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,’’ first declared in 1983 and now recognized only by Turkey. An island-wide buffer zone, monitored by UNFICYP, divides the north from the south.

As Ambassador (ret.) Kathleen Doherty explains in a recent ISD case study, Cyprus: Seeking Solutions — A Case Study of the 2015–2017 Negotiations, the parties have failed to reach agreement because of disputes over the political structure of the island, property claims on either side of the buffer zone, and the status of the Turkish troops that have been stationed in the north since 1974. Doherty is well-positioned to write about this topic; she served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus from October 2015 to January 2019. She writes that the latest round of negotiations brought the parties close to a settlement, the closest since the 2004 referendum rejected the U.N.-mediated Annan Plan that would have reunified the island. The parties have agreed that any final settlement must address, at the very least, all the main issues at play: federalism, territory, property, and security. As Doherty explains, this approach encouraged negotiators to address the issues in a comprehensive fashion. It meant that each party had to consider the priorities of the other one as well — each could not focus only on its own highest priorities and ignore those of the other party.

The case study is useful for students interested in Cyprus in particular and peace negotiations in general. Although background knowledge is helpful, the study does not presume that readers are familiar with the topic. It includes a map of Cyprus and begins with a brief historical overview of the political agreements that led to the conflict. Doherty provides links to primary sources, including the Treaty of Establishment (1960), Treaty of Alliance (1960), and Treaty of Guarantee (1960), which collectively outlined the relationship between the Republic of Cyprus and the guarantor powers Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom; a March 1965 report from a U.N. mediator to the Secretary-General; and U.N. Security Council Resolution 541 (1983), which recognized the Republic of Cyprus as the sole legitimate government on the island. Doherty then offers relevant context about the roles of formal and informal players in the 2015–2017 negotiations, including the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, United Nations, European Union, Greece, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, and Russia. Using publicly available information — mindful not to include classified information — Doherty surveys the positions of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the issues of governance, territory, property, and security. She also addresses the consequences of Cyprus’s unresolved status for NATO-E.U. and E.U.-Turkey relations as well as energy diplomacy in the eastern Mediterranean.

The case study concludes with a series of discussion questions that will help students think about what new negotiations might look like and what they might seek to achieve. The list includes the prospects of reunification; the role of trust in the negotiations; the goals of an agreement; the viability of UNFICYP; and the role of external parties such as the United States, Russia, and Turkey. These questions are most applicable, of course, to Cyprus. However, the question about trust is relevant to any peace negotiation — so it will invite discussion not only about Cyprus but also societies where peace processes have failed to start, remain in their early stages, or face pressure decades on.

Ryan Conner is a research and editorial assistant at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. He is also a rising second-year M.A. student in European Studies in the School of Foreign Service. His own research focuses on the peace process in Northern Ireland. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanpconner50. He writes in a personal capacity.

ISD’s case studies library consists of over 250 cases on an exceptionally broad range of topics and events. These case studies support faculty and students who seek to bring real-world examples of diplomacy in action — its successes and its failures — into the classroom.

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Read Amb. (ret.) Doherty’s reflections on writing the case study:

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