PRESIDENT Anastasiades will brief the people and political parties before leaving for Geneva, his spokesman has said. Nobody cares what he will tell the party leaders, most of whom have said they will be accompanying him to Geneva anyway, but the people need to be given a general idea of what will be discussed because ever since the international conference was announced, they have been bombarded with misinformation and scare stories by the opposition parties.
It is for this reason the president must make sure he addresses the people in a clear honest way and not as if they were Papadopoulos, Lillikas, Sizopoulos or Phileleftheros’ columnists as he has been doing, quite infuriatingly, so far. This has been the biggest weakness of Anastasiades’ public handling of the Cyprus talks – he has laboured under the illusion that the anti-settlement politicians and newspaper columnists were representative of public opinion and has engaged with them in an unproductive and unhelpful dialogue, allowing them to dictate the agenda.
He has regularly pandered to them and often adopted the red lines they have drawn and repeated their sterile rhetoric in the hope that this would bring them on side. The result is that he has created unnecessary difficulties for himself and undermined his credibility as a negotiator by sending out mixed signals.
Nothing illustrates this better than the unnecessary row over who would participate in the Geneva conference. At the December 1 dinner with Mustafa Akinci it was agreed that the three guarantor powers and the two communities would be represented while in the UN statement there was mention of “other relevant parties” that, essentially, referred to the EU.
Once the opposition parties started banging on about the presence of the Cyprus Republic in Geneva, Anastasiades immediately embraced this view, declaring through his spokesman that without the presence of the Republic there would be no conference. It was totally unnecessary grandstanding that his spokesman has tried to put right in the last few days, by saying Anastasiades, as president, would be representing the Republic. Why did the president not said this when the parties started making a fuss? He could also have mentioned that the Cyprus Republic had never been represented at the intercommunal talks – not even when the uncompromising Tassos Papadopoulos was president – and that would have been the end of this ludicrous argument.
He did exactly the same over the demand for the participation of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – something that he knew Turkey would never agree to – declaring “they must be present at the conference.” He knows they will not be present so why does he agree to be drawn into these silly games of the opposition parties? Again, he could have made it clear from the start that this would not happen and have been done with it, instead of changing his story all the time over a non-issue.
The same is true regarding the issue of abolition of Turkish guarantees, which he allowed to be turned into a potential deal-breaker by agreeing with the opposition parties instead of confronting them. He could have mentioned that in 42 years of talks our side had never raised the issue of guarantees. Tassos Papadopoulos had not even considered it merited a mention when he carried out his televised demolition job on the Annan plan. Why did the president not just say that he would try to amend to guarantee system – a realistic objective he could achieve – instead of constantly repeating the abolition mantra, knowing the other side would never accept.
Interestingly, despite the relentless rhetoric for almost half the people, guarantees were not such a major issue. An opinion poll published by Simerini on Wednesday found that only 57 per cent of respondents considered the abolition of guarantees a red line. But it would have been much lower if the politicians, including the president, had not turned it into such a big issue. Equally interesting is that 45 per cent of respondents did not consider the return of Morphou a red line. If anything, the poll showed that people are much more flexible than the opposition parties and newspapers that Anastasiades has allowed to dictate the public agenda.
Anastasiades should understand this even at this late stage after months of allowing the rejectionists to call the shots. His message to the public needs to be clear, explaining that he will be going to Geneva not to dig in his heels, but to achieve the best possible compromise. He should make it very clear that red lines are drawn by those who do not want a settlement. As he is not one of them, he can be flexible in Geneva with the aim of securing the best possible deal. It would then be up to the people to decide whether it was acceptable or not. Happy new year.