Cyprus Mail

Could it be the last waltz for Downer?

By Stefanos Evripidou

THE GOVERNMENT is not aware of any efforts by the United Nations to replace their special adviser on Cyprus Alexander Downer, said a government spokesman yesterday, after reports surfaced that the Australian plans to head his country’s embassy in Washington.

Acting government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos said the government had not been informed about whether Downer hopes to become the next Australian ambassador to the US, nor whether the UN was planning to replace him as UN Special Adviser on Cyprus, and as such, had no comment to make on the matter.

The issue was raised after local daily Alithia pointed to Australian media reports suggesting Downer was being touted as the next Australian ambassador to the US, should the opposition win the upcoming elections.

Australian federal elections are due to take place on September 14 this year, with numerous Australian media tipping the opposition coalition headed by Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott to win.

Downer served for 11 years as foreign minister (1996-2007) of a Liberal government, and according to the Herald Sun, has made it known privately that he would be willing to serve in a future Abbott government.

Julie Bishop, the Deputy Opposition Leader and foreign affairs spokeswoman, was quoted on website saying: “I have not held any discussions with Alexander Downer in relation to a potential diplomatic appointment. Diplomatic posts will only be considered after the election, if we are elected to government.”

Meanwhile, Alithia cited sources saying that President Nicos Anastasiades has delicately raised the issue of Downer’s replacement with European and US officials.

According to the paper, Anastasiades would like to see the Australian leave of his own accord and be replaced by a European official.

Downer has come under increasing criticism among the Greek Cypriot media and political leadership in recent weeks.

He has never been popular among a certain section of parliament who frequently voice their desire to have him replaced but until recently, his relations with Anastasiades were always cordial.

The presidential palace became increasingly prickly about perceived efforts by the UN to politicise a scheduled ‘social’ dinner between Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu last week.

The president, who suffered a baptism by fire when taking office in March, thanks to his European partners, has made it perfectly clear he needs time to stabilise the Cypriot economy before launching a new round of peace talks.

Downer seemed perplexed by the government’s stance on the dinner, and conveyed the view that he was in Australia in the weeks preceding the dinner and was neither trying to scupper nor speed up the process.

However, following his conciliatory meeting with Anastasiades, and on the doorsteps of the presidential palace, Downer delivered a blow to the ribs, telling an inquisitive media that the government had been sent a document listing convergences in the peace talks on April 30, two weeks before Anastasiades had publicly admitted to receiving it.

Whether Downer meant to undermine an already weakened president, demoralised from his inability to influence the Eurogroup’s devastating decision on Cyprus, or was simply caught unprepared, the result was the same, Anastasiades was painted a liar.

The UN, presidential palace and foreign ministry frantically set about finding a way out of the mini-crisis, finally settling on the line that the president’s office had received the convergences document on April 30, but did not think it important enough to pass on to Anastasiades until two weeks later.

The experience may have left a bitter taste in the new president’s mouth. While Downer’s no-nonsense approach, famed use of profanities, and unusually undiplomatic inability to sugar-coat his thoughts may have started to irk those within the international community hoping to see peace talks kick-off this autumn.


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