This year started on a particularly pessimistic note in Cyprus. In December 2013, the latest attempt by the United Nations to bring the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders back to the negotiating table had foundered. The two sides had been unable to reach an agreement on the wording of a joint statement that would have laid down the parameters for a renewed attempt to reunify the island.
At the core of the dispute was a disagreement on the nature of sovereignty in any settlement. While the two sides have long agreed that any solution would see the creation of a federation made up of two states and respecting the existence of the two key communities on the island—a bizonal, bicommunal federation—the Greek Cypriots wanted an ironclad guarantee from the Turkish Cypriots that any new state would also be imbued with a single internationally recognized sovereign identity. In the Greek Cypriots’ view, this condition is crucial to guaranteeing that any new state will be stable and enduring. If the two states making up the federation are both vested with their own sovereignty, the fear is that the Turkish Cypriots may try to secede in the future by citing the precedent of the break-up of Czechoslovakia into two internationally recognized states.
And then, suddenly, on Feb. 8 it was announced that the two sides had finally managed to settle on a text. What made the news all the more surprising was that the deal had been brokered by the United States, rather than the United Nations.