By Stefanos Evripidou
THE GOVERNMENT yesterday rubbished Turkish Cypriot reports that President Nicos Anastasiades had walked out of the peace talks on Thursday as “unjustifiable gossip”.
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said reports of Anastasiades banging his hand on the negotiating table, throwing his glasses down and storming out were mere “gossip” that bore no relation to reality and were “unjustifiable”.
He put the reports down to “weakness” and “embarrassment” on the part of the Turkish Cypriot negotiating team, who were not able to respond to the president’s arguments in the talks.
The Turkish Cypriot press yesterday painted a very different picture of what is believed to be the same meeting at the UN’s Nicosia airport on Thursday as reported by the Greek Cypriot press.
Despite the diverse range of publications across the island, two main accounts of Thursday’s meeting between Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu dominated the press stands, and they were divided along ethnic lines.
The four-hour leaders’ meeting certainly did not end well, with the two sides failing to agree either on the way forward or on the simplest confidence-building measures (CBMs).
Contrary to custom, the UN did not issue any statement at the end of the meeting, waiting instead a few hours before announcing that the two leaders will meet again on September 2.
Anastasiades who came second to the meeting, left first; a break from protocol as usually the first to arrive is the first to leave.
Greek Cypriot sources confirmed that the meeting was “difficult” and had its fair share of ups and downs, but that reports of drama were “exaggerated”. They noted one positive, that all positions on the key aspects of a solution have now been tabled by each side.
Sources said Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu rejected three proposals by Anastasiades to document and lock down convergences between the two sides before entering phase three of the talks, the give-and-take process.
Eroglu also reportedly refused to accept the Downer document, which lists convergences reached between 2008 and 2012 under the Demetris Christofias government.
Anastasiades had also refused to adopt it when coming to power in 2013. But a source said yesterday that almost 95 per cent of the current proposals tabled by the Greek Cypriot side are the same as those in past convergences. The main change Anastasiades seeks is to remove the proposal on a rotating presidency because he does not agree with the weighted voting element included in the package.
According to yesterday’s Turkish Cypriot press, it was Anastasiades who refused to reach consensus on CBMs, and who opposed the adoption of past convergences, while Eroglu insisted on recognising the Downer document.
Two sources close to the talks countered this version of events saying Eroglu never proposed adopting the Downer document. One source maintained that his negotiator, Kudret Ozersay, proposed the exact opposite.
The source argued that if one were to study Eroglu’s proposals, excluding the chapters on the EU, Economy and Territory, they would find 29 divergences from the Downer document.
They further argued that Eroglu has been left to his own devices by Turkey which is otherwise engaged.
The Greek Cypriots had reached agreement with Ankara on the joint declaration in February, after which Turkey took a back seat and left Eroglu to run the show, said the source, adding the hope is they will get more involved after Turkish presidential elections in August.
Another claim made in the Turkish Cypriot press was that Anastasiades stood up twice in the meeting, banged his fist on the table, reprimanded his delegation, scolded UN officials, threw his eyeglasses on the table and stormed out the meeting, all of which Christodoulides rejected as untrue.
Papers cited “reliable sources” saying the president insisted on smoking three times during the meeting despite a no smoking ban.
On this issue, a source told the Cyprus Mail that Anastasiades asked Eroglu at their first meeting whether he could smoke in the negotiating room. Eroglu replied, as a doctor he did not approve, but in any case accepted his request.
Speaking to public broadcaster CyBC, Christodoulides hinted the Greek Cypriot press got it right when they reported Eroglu took a negative stance both on the methodology of the talks and CBMs.
“It is a fact that Mr Eroglu’s first reaction was negative, on many issues it was not positive.”
Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Ozdil Nami tried to temper the opposing accounts somewhat, explaining that Anastasiades had not walked out of Thursday’s meeting but left earlier to meet with the troika.
Nami expressed regret for the deadlock, before adding that the Greek Cypriots are to blame for refusing to accept past convergences.
AKEL spokesman Giorgos Loukaides said yesterday it was clear the outlook was “bleak”.
He said Eroglu has two aims: to free himself of the Christofias-Talat convergences and then blame Anastasiades for the deadlock.
Loukaides highlighted the need to protect past convergences, warning of the huge risk that the Greek Cypriots would also be blamed for the deadlock.
The Cyprus Mail asked a number of people with knowledge of the talks to comment on the latest failure to make progress. One said there was a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding between the two sides: “They tried face-saving measures instead of confidence-building measures, but they couldn’t even do that.”
Another argued it seemed obvious Anastasiades does not want anything to do with Eroglu and is waiting for next year’s elections in the north. “But by the time April comes, so much damage will have been done.”
A third commentator likened the talks to Dante’s inferno, saying they had reached the eighth circle of hell, one step before the final level, but could still make it out and even up.
They said the process had reached a critical moment, with an uncertain future. “If Thursday’s meeting was a trip in an ambulance, you could say that the patient has made it to the hospital but the outlook is grave.”