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Our View: Procedure, the last refuge of all cowardly leaders

AFTER meeting the president on Thursday, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide told a group of journalists his shuttling between the two leaders would continue because more work was needed. He said, “it is not easy because the devil is in the details and details are very important to both sides.”

The Norwegian might not agree with so much time wasted on the details, but as they were “very important to both sides”, he was obliged to play along. A few hours later he realised that dealing with details was a monumental waste of time, an exercise in futility in which both sides had an expertise, and gave up on his shutting. On Friday morning, he issued a brief statement, saying “without prospect of common ground there is no basis for continuing this shuttle diplomacy.”

Obsession with the details has always been the key feature of the Cyprus talks, the two leaders often squabbling for days over the phrasing of a joint announcement, whether a comma should be used in a specific part of a sentence or the order in which subjects should be discussed. And the side that eventually got its way, behaved as if it had secured a major diplomatic victory.

Bickering about details and procedure is a game as old as the Cyprus problem, the default position of the leaders when they are unwilling to take the big steps needed for real progress and eventually an agreement. Small-time leaders, of the type we have in Cyprus, are comfortable focusing on details as this allows them to ignore the big picture, dealing with which requires boldness and intellectual rigour most do not possess.

True leaders would not waste their time on details and bickering about procedure. They provide the vision, take the big decisions, set the targets and order their advisors and technocrats to bash out the details and sort out technicalities, within tight time-frames, because they are interested in results. Cyprus leaders, in contrast, deal with procedural detail and technicalities personally and use them in order not to get results. It is what you expect from cowardly politicians who think small, fear taking responsibility and refuse to see the bigger picture.

It was indicative of this mentality that Diko chief Nicolas Papadopoulos’ main criticism

of President Anastasiades was that his bad handling would lead to the Greek Cypriot side being blamed about the deadlock. It did not matter that the best ever opportunity for re-unification under reasonable conditions had been squandered by Anastasiades’ loss of nerve at the worst possible time. The issue for Papadopoulos was that we would be blamed for the deadlock, as if the ultimate objective is to fail to reach a settlement without being blamed for that failure.

Anastasiades might well be blamed for the latest deadlock, and after his latest antics that were clearly designed to end the process so he should be, but is this really the issue? What should concern all of us is that the four chapters, discussed for the last two years, had all but been agreed. Only the leaders’ approval was needed for finalising them. The territorial adjustments needed minor modifications, with maps having been exchanged in Geneva, while Aastasiades has in his possession a proposed arrangement on security and guarantees, prepared by Eide after consultations with all interested parties that was a positive basis for negotiations.

Having achieved all this, Anastasiades decided to derail the process by taking a big stand on procedure, the last refuge of all our small-time, politically cowardly leaders.

First, he proposed a new procedure for the Geneva conference and when the Turks agreed to it he decided to set criteria for what constituted progress in the discussion of the chapter on security. These are the transparent tricks and pretexts of a man who has decided he is not interested in reaching a deal and is unwilling even to try. How could Akinci sit and discuss the nebulous concept of criteria for progress with a man that has shown, through his actions in the last few months, his objective is to end the process?

Like any small-timer politician, who puts his personal ambitions above the national interest, he obdurately refuses to see the bigger picture that a Cyprus settlement is an integral part of the West’s plans for the region.

If only he could have seen this, he would have also realised it offered the Greek Cypriots the unprecedented opportunity to secure a better settlement than they could have ever hoped for. Instead, by resorting to nonsensical objections on details, he has blown the chance. And it’s all so he can return to his comfort zone – plotting his path to re-election.


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