ONE OF the hard-line newspaper columnists took great exception to Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras’ grudging endorsement of the Cyprus government’s decision to suspend its participation in the peace talks, during the Athens visit of his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu. Speaking at a joint news conference last Saturday Samaras had said, “we understand Mr Anastasiades’ decision to stop the talks until the problem that had been created was solved.”
Was ‘understand,’ the best verb the Greek PM could think of, asked the columnist. Why had he not used verbs like ‘agree’ or ‘support’? And why had he refused to talk specifically about Turkey’s incursion into the Cypriot EEZ, referring to it rather vaguely as “the problem that had been created”? He did not say what the problem was, who had caused it and who was refusing to end it, the writer noted. These were legitimate questions on the surface, but as is so often the case with Cyprus problem discourse, ignored the bigger picture.
The prime ministers of the two countries may have had a productive dialogue and reached agreement on bilateral issues. Samaras would have ruined any positive climate by using the joint news conference to criticise Turkey’s actions and openly supporting Anastasiades’ withdrawal from the talks. It would not have been very diplomatic, especially after Davutoglu’s conciliatory remarks; he called on Greece to help solve the Cyprus problem, so that “we could jointly exploit the energy wealth of the region, linking the source with Greece and the rest of Europe, through Turkey, for the benefit of everyone.”
If this was the spirit in which the talks had been held, it would have been difficult for Samaras to have used the confrontational language that would have been applauded in Cyprus. For some in Cyprus, disengaging from the talks for good is desirable, but for the governments of Greece and Cyprus it is not. If Samaras did not want the talks to resume he would have openly censured Turkey’s NAVTEX and demanded the withdrawal of the Barbaros from the Cypriot EEZ, but this, quite clearly, was not his objective. Even for PR purposes, he could not give the impression he was turning down Davutoglu’s offer of co-operation on Cyprus.
If the resumption of the Cyprus talks is the objective, then Samaras was correct in avoiding the confrontational rhetoric that would have made this even more difficult to achieve. Those that have criticised his soft approach do not want the talks to resume and would have welcomed Davutoglu’s visit ending in failure. Fortunately, the government of Greece does not share this sterile thinking.