It was the top story on the radio and news websites last Thursday morning. “The President had a chat with Erdogan about the Cyprus issue” was the headline in most media. The night before, Nicos Anastasiades was among the attendees at the dinner of the leaders of NATO member states in Madrid.
Delighted, the government spokesman issued a written statement saying, word for word, that “the President of the Republic spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with whom he exchanged views, mainly in relation to the Cyprus issue.” Mr Pelekanos added that the President expressed to Mr Erdogan “his readiness to resume negotiations for the settlement of the Cyprus issue under UN auspices. He reiterated that he is always ready to engage in talks, with the aim of settling a long-standing problem, the resolution of which will be beneficial for Cyprus and all Cypriots, as well as for stability and security in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greco-Turkish relations and EU-Turkey relations.”
“He exchanged views,” the spokesman said. How words lose their meaning in the effort to score points for internal consumption. To put the record straight, Mr Anastasiades had a brief conversation in passing with Tayyip Erdogan. In this brief conversation, he managed to explain to him the advantages of a solution not only for Cyprus but also for the wider region as well as for Ankara’s relations with Brussels. Yes, he had time for all this! It’s worth noting that speaking English is not one of the Turkish president’s strongest points, nor of course of his Cypriot counterpart either.
I waited in vain to hear, not only what Mr Anastasiades said to Erdogan, but also what the latter said in response. There was no mention in the spokesman’s statement. Later, based on media reports, I was informed that Mr Erdogan was reticent in conversation. He told the president that the positions of the two sides are recorded and as far as the resumption of talks is concerned, he would do well to address his Turkish Cypriot interlocutor Ersin Tatar. It was as if he was telling him, “dear Nicos, this is not the way to do business, on the fly.”
Between us, the president did very well to go and talk to Erdogan. It’s just that out of respect for citizens’ intelligence, his associates should not have christened a “hello, how are you” as an “exchange of views”. I remember another similar (perhaps even better) case that a journalist friend told me about years ago. I won’t mention names. The then President was participating in an international meeting. At some point, he went to the toilet. While relieving himself, a high-ranking Turkish official entered. They made small talk (of the toilet kind) and returned to their seats. The associates of the then President, however, touted the encounter to the media as a meeting where “views were exchanged”. The beauty of the story is that the media swallowed it whole and reported on it all day.
The NATO summit last Wednesday and Thursday was historic, and not only because Turkey had finally accepted the accession of Sweden and Finland. In Madrid, the Alliance’s new strategic concept was developed, which for the first time identifies Russia as a hostile power and China as a potential troublemaker in Asia. In short, the conclusions of the summit shake up established geostrategic balances at the global level. Of course, in Cyprus and in Greece, we hardly dealt with that. Attention was focused on whether Erdogan would challenge the sovereignty of the Greek islands (he didn’t say a word on that), whether Greece would acquire the American F-35 fighter jets, and whether Turkey would eventually get the inferior F-16s. Oh, I almost forgot, and on the Anastasiades-Erdogan”exchange of views”.