UN SPECIAL Adviser Espen Barth Eide was doing so well. He announced on Tuesday that Cyprus talks would be resuming after the elections in the north, which will be held on April 19.
A day later he found himself in the doghouse, not only with the usual suspects – the rejectionist parties – but with the government after an interview he gave to the Cyprus News Agency.
Two comments he made raised hackles. In one, he tried to play down Turkey’s forays into the island’s EEZ effectively saying it was no big deal.
His second ‘offence’ was when he tried to define the Cyprus problem, saying: “It`s essentially contested what is the Cyprus problem. Is it a hijack state, or part of the country is occupied?”
The government immediately made strong demarches, and the political parties trotted out the usual song and dance they perform when a foreign official doesn’t follow the Greek Cypriot party line.
At the time of writing yesterday afternoon we had lauded Eide for his sensible straight talking, saying that it was refreshing to see a UN interlocutor not afraid to be scrutinised over what he said in the hard-core Greek Cypriot media, which routinely eats UN envoys for breakfast.
The UN had not issued any ‘clarifications’ or statements that Eide had been ‘misunderstood’ or tried to smooth things over for the good of the negotiations, which indicated that he was ready to stand by what he said and not be cowed.
This viewpoint was short-lived. Late last night Eide issued a statement saying he had been ‘misrepresented’. Interestingly he did not say he had been misquoted but merely tried to clarify that he had not intended to make any kind of judgment about the competing narratives on the Cyprus issue, and also that Cyprus’ EEZ should be respected by other states.
With all the past experiences of his predecessors it is hard to believe Eide did not know that everything he said would be nitpicked to death, even though he did not say anything that was terribly shocking.
Straight talking is all very well if your audience is ready to listen and understand what you are trying to do. But in Cyprus, neither side wants to hear the other’s point of view. That’s why the Cyprus issue has not been resolved.
In their own ways, the sides in Cyprus ‘can’t handle the truth’ and anyone who speaks it is labeled ‘an ambassador for Turkey’ by the Greek Cypriot side or ‘pro-Greek by the Turkish side.
The unfortunate reality is that for the sake of the negotiations it is sometimes best not to give more ammunition to the political parties who are just looking for an excuse to pressure President Nicos Anastasiades into not returning to the talks.