EVER since the April 2 dinner with Mustafa Akinci at which it was decided to resume talks and hold four meetings between the leaders President Anastasiades has become a different man. Before the dinner, he was keen for the talks to resume, but since the day after he has used all his public speeches to play down the prospects of success and accuse the Turkish side of intransigence and of reneging on what was agreed. The issuing of Navtex notices by Turkey later in April gave him more ammunition to fire at the process, which allegedly was undermined by Turkish threats and provocations.
The main reason for the president’s transformation was the June deadline set for the end of the talks, one way or the other. He had hoped the process would continue inconclusively until he could request a break in order to focus on his re-election bid. Once this plan fell by the wayside he gave up his interest in the talks and began preparing his exit strategy. This involved publicly bemoaning the intransigence of the other side that prevented progress and declaring, like a dyed-in-the-wool rejectionist that he could not accept “any solution”. He occasionally pays lip service to a settlement, as he did in Limassol on Sunday, before giving a host of reasons why he could not reach a deal.
Anastasiades is in a state of confusion and lacking the quality of strong leadership we had mistakenly credited him with. As the end-game approached, he balked at the idea of taking the responsibility for reaching an agreement with the other side. It was a difficult and high-risk path, for which he would have come under merciless criticism by the rejectionist politicians, the media and those sections of the public opposed to a deal. Not having the resolve or belief to do battle for a settlement, he has opted for the path of least resistance, the automatic choice of the weak leader lacking conviction.
Superficially speaking, this is considered the no-risk option and much easier to sell to the public. The president can claim – as he has done – that he cannot not agree to a settlement because of the Turkish side’s unreasonable demands. Who would question this tried and tested formula for abandoning talks, resorted to by every president at some point during their respective terms?
There were times when this course of action was justified. This is certainly not one of them. Huge progress had been achieved on all issues and according to the UN all that was now required was the political will to close all the chapters and go to an international conference.
Taking such responsibility terrifies Anastasiades, but we fear his belief that it would be easier to bail out from the talks could turn out to be a massive miscalculation on his part.