‘THE show must go on’ was the message from New York where President Anastasiades and his entourage had gone to attend the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, as every Cyprus president has done every year since 1974. This annual excursion to the Big Apple is an integral part of the Cyprus problem, intended either to explore the prospects of the start/resumption of talks with the other side or to report the intransigence of Turkey.
This year it was a combination of the two. He used his General Assembly address to attack Turkey for its violations of the Cypriot EEZ, “the gunboat diplomacy, the blackmail tactics and the attempts to force our side to negotiate under duress”. He wondered how it was possible for an initiative by the UN secretary-general to be successful at a time when Turkey was making threats against Cyprus’ energy programme and signaling plans to settle the fenced-off area of Varosha, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
While his speech, which seemed more targeted at the hard-liners back in Cyprus than the international community, made a strong case for not engaging in negotiations all reports from New York suggested Anastasiades was pinning his hopes for a resumption of the talks on his meeting with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. After this meeting on Friday, the president announced that the prospect of a three-party meeting with Mustafa Akinci and Guterres was “visible”. At a lunch he hosted for the representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council a little later, he reportedly stressed his determination to secure an agreement on terms of reference so that the talks would resume.
A day earlier, he was declaring that he could not negotiate under duress, slamming Turkey’s gunboat diplomacy. Contradictions and mixed messages have become the trademark of Anastasiades’ Cyprus problem policy and such seems to be the state of his confusion that he is not even aware of it. In his UN speech, he stated that it was not his intention to engage in a blame-game, before he did exactly that. This may seem a trivial example but it is indicative of the complete lack of consistency in Anastasiades’ discourse, something which has left his credibility in tatters. Which part of his comments are we to believe – his determination to return to negotiations or the conditions he has set that make such a return unlikely?
This is not all. In his speech he repeated his commitment to a bizonal, bicommunal federation, yet a few months ago he was arguing that it would not work and talked about exploring the possibility of a loose federation, a confederation and a parliamentary democracy, while in private conversations he expresses a preference for a two-state solution. On Thursday he also underlined his wholehearted support for political equality, even though he had spent the last year making a case against it on the grounds it was unfair and would lead to a dysfunctional state. As for the Guterres framework, despite spending the last year insisting that the one presented on June 30, 2017 in Crans-Montana was not the final version, and he had accepted an allegedly amended version on July 4, on Thursday he had changed tack again.
Either the president has lost the plot or he changes his positions in accordance to the audience he is addressing. Is it any wonder that Turkey has been demanding an informal five-party conference so it can decide what type of settlement the two sides should negotiate? Given the constantly changing positions of the president, can anyone be certain that foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is lying in claiming Anastasiades had expressed support for a two-state solution at a private meeting in Crans-Montana? There is no shortage of Greek Cypriots that have heard him express this position.
What can he achieve by constantly shifting positions? Not only has he wrecked any credibility he had but he has also given Turkey a free rein to pursue it objectives. The passing of time will ensure that no territory is returned even under a two-state solution. Morphou is being developed and there are plans to settle Varosha, about which Anastasiades said a recourse would be filed to the UN Security Council. Will this stop the Turks or ensure the town’s return to the Greek Cypriots? Of course not, but Anastasiades does not seem too bothered, as long as he is seen to be doing something, however ineffective, because the Cyprus problem show must go on. In this regard, he shows great consistency.