GENEVA – The first hurdle facing the world's top diplomats as they try to play architects of a new Iranian nuclear order is running the gauntlet of media staking out the hotel protected by a phalanx of security and an armored vehicle.
Each diplomat took a different approach to navigating the maze of more than 100 journalists lurking in the lobby and the driveway, jockeying for tables, electrical plugs and stakeout positions.
First to arrive was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a veteran diplomatic broker, who easily brushed past reporters with the aid of Swiss police.
They had warned that any journalist who tried to bark a question at Lavrov would be tossed out. One reporter defied the ban but got no response as Lavrov strode through the lobby for the elevators.
By contrast, British Foreign Secretary William Hague immediately embraced the pack. He went right up to the TV camera crews and photographers bundled up in the cold while penned into a tent outside the hotel entrance.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry used niceties and some of the cultural and linguistic skills he gained from boarding school in Switzerland to deflect attention.
"Bonjour," he told the hotel manager, which was more than he had to say to the press as he swept past them into the hotel.
Centrifuges, uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons are hardly subjects for light banter. But that doesn't mean the atmosphere was not without humor.
At the end of their 27-minute minute in a hotel suite on the 16th floor, Kerry and Lavrov posed for the cameras, chit-chatting about the schedule. Then Lavrov gestured toward a boom microphone being used by a TV sound man, and quipped to Kerry: "He's eavesdropping."
Kerry glanced over at it, knowing that Lavrov was referencing the recent disclosures of widespread National Security Agency snooping around the globe, including on U.S. allies in Europe.
Kerry pointed at Lavrov and responded: "Must belong to you, not us."
With little to no news leaking out of the talks, journalists and even lower-ranking diplomats watch each other for any insights into what's afoot. Take for example the movements of delegations.
On Friday, as word surfaced that the talks were proving difficult, members of the Iranian delegation and Iranian traveling press showed up in the hotel lobby and media center with their luggage. Word spread — the Iranians have checked out of their hotel — fueling speculation the talks were headed for collapse. Conspiracy theorists wondered if Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was sending a signal.
The truth proved more mundane. The Iranians had expected the talks to last Wednesday and Thursday and booked their rooms accordingly. No one had advised them officially the talks had been extended. Once they did, the Iranians checked back into their rooms.