‘Cyprus comes first’ policy

As expected, the council of political leaders offered nothing but an exchange of views on the UN Cyprus plan and what would happen «the day after» the twin referenda. It could not have been any different. What was interesting was the way in which the prime minister tried to strike a balance and serve incompatible goals. He indirectly sided in favor of a «yes» vote but without succumbing to fatalism. He made sure to dedramatize the implications of a «no» vote yet stressed that he will back any verdict by the Greek Cypriots. As a result, Costas Karamanlis’s statement will have little effect on the overwhelming public disfavor of the plan. Besides, he decided from the very beginning not to interfere. In Buergenstock, Karamanlis refused to turn the summit into four-way talks and – despite his wavering – did not seek to play any active role in the negotiations nor patronize the Greek-Cypriot leadership. This was in direct contrast to George Papandreou whose early and unambiguous endorsement of the plan was aimed at influencing the Greek Cypriots. It took some time before Karamanlis gave in to American pressure to do so. Still, he refrained from pushing Nicosia to campaign for a «yes» vote. His stand, in fact, facilitates Tassos Papadopoulos, while his timid «yes» will spare his government of undesirable repercussions. The premier now hopes to push for a new round of talks after May 1 and protect Greek-Turkish relations from the fallout of a «no» vote. Karamanlis’s statement was intentionally vague, just as his public demeanor has been over the previous days. But this is neither unprecedented nor unacceptable in politics – especially given that Karamanlis is trying to serve incompatible aims. Notwithstanding an element of political opportunism (fear of an in-party tiff that could lose him votes to the ultranationalist LAOS), he clearly treated Athens’s ties with Nicosia as top priority.