PRESIDENT Anastasiades’ improvisational policy-making that we wrote about a few weeks ago was exhibited once again in an interview on Mega TV on Thursday night when he accused the UN Secretary-General of ‘naked blackmail’, members of the international community of misleading him and the US ambassador in Nicosia of hostility.
It was an astonishing outburst, the motives behind which remain a mystery as it is extremely difficult to find a rational explanation for it. That he may have been playing tough for domestic consumption is not a rational explanation.
He may have been justified to be angry with the Cyprus resolution prepared by the UN for its failure to blame Turkey’s incursions into the Cypriot EEZ for the break-up of the talks, for bringing up the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and for referring to the government as the ‘Greek Cypriot authorities’, but his feelings should not have been shared with the public. He is the president and does not have the right to react recklessly, like a punter in a village coffee-shop or a newspaper columnist. The president must exercise restraint, use measured language and avoid sweeping statements that will return to haunt him, as has happened more than once during Anastasiades’ presidency.
Even if the target of his angry rant was the domestic audience he should also have considered that not everyone would have perceived it in the same way. Another way of interpreting his angry words was that they were dictated by despair. He had lost control of the situation by walking out of the talks and setting conditions – no Navtex and no violations of the Cypriot EEZ – for the Greek Cypriots’ return, a condition that the Turks refused to satisfy. His attempt to put things back on track by announcing he agreed to hydrocarbons being discussed in the peace talks was answered with the issuing of another Navtex by Turkey.
Feeling cheated and trapped, he went on television and lashed out against the UN Secretary-General and his Special Advisor as well as the US ambassador. It has become something of a presidential tradition to attack the UN and the US when a president has led our side to an impasse from which there is no obvious escape, as it shifts public attention away from his bad choices. Anastasiades was correct in believing that Turkey had been let off by the UN report and that the Greek Cypriot side was being pressured (blackmailed was too strong a term) to return to the talks, but instead of treating it as another foreign plot against Cyprus he should have considered the meaning and implications of the UN stance.
The objective of Ban Ki-moon and Espen Barth Eide is quite clearly the resumption and, ultimately, the successful conclusion of the talks. They therefore avoided condemning Turkey’s actions to keep it on side and included a veiled threat to the Greek Cypriots about ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in order to pressure Anastasiades to abandon his conditions and return to the talks. It was the Greek Cypriots who quit the talks and the UN decided, rightly or wrongly, that the only way of bringing them back was the veiled threat of a form of recognition of the north in its resolution.
It was also a warning that time was running out for the UN peace talks. Barth Eide, who has said this could be the last chance for a negotiated settlement, showed that he is not prepared to hang around for another two or three years until Anastasiades feels ready to return to the talks. Perhaps we should see this also as notice that the UN-sponsored talks could be reaching the end of their cycle and that the organisation will no longer waste time and resources on finding a compromise between two sides that have time and again shown they did not have the will or desire to reach a deal. And the Greek Cypriots are still deluding themselves that by avoiding a settlement and attacking UN efforts to help us reach a deal, they are punishing Turkey. It is a funny punishment that allows Turkey to keep everything it seized in 1974 as well as 40,000 troops on the island in perpetuity.
It may be that Anastasiades does not want the type of settlement that is achievable and is resorting to the anti-UN grandstanding, reminiscent of Spyros Kyprianou and Tassos Papadopoulos, in order to achieve his objective without having to explain himself to the people. This would explain his assertion on Mega that he would never return to the talks under these conditions. Given that conditions will not change, are we to conclude that this was a roundabout way of the president making it known that he was giving up on the peace process?