World

Security, humor along with geopolitical complexities at Iranian nuclear talks

  • The Intercontinental Hotel , where the talks on Iran's nuclear program take place, photographed in Geneva, Switzerland, Saturday, Nov.23, 2013.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and five foreign ministers launched an intensive diplomatic push Saturday to close a deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program while cautioning that significant obstacles remained on the fourth day of marathon talks. Diplomats refused to spell out details of the Saturday talks, held in a five-star Geneva hotel. But comments from both sides suggested that talks were focused on wording of the final agreement. (AP Photo/Keystone,Jean-Christophe Bott)

    The Intercontinental Hotel , where the talks on Iran's nuclear program take place, photographed in Geneva, Switzerland, Saturday, Nov.23, 2013. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and five foreign ministers launched an intensive diplomatic push Saturday to close a deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program while cautioning that significant obstacles remained on the fourth day of marathon talks. Diplomats refused to spell out details of the Saturday talks, held in a five-star Geneva hotel. But comments from both sides suggested that talks were focused on wording of the final agreement. (AP Photo/Keystone,Jean-Christophe Bott)  (The Associated Press)

  • From left, Vice Admiral Kurt Tidd, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov look to a boom  microphone held by a member of the media, lower left corner, as they sit together during a photo opportunity during a meeting, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland, during the Iran nuclear talks. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of other major powers joined Iran nuclear talks on Saturday, throwing their weight behind a diplomatic push to complete a deal after envoys reported progress on key issues blocking an interim agreement to curb the Iranian program in return for limited sanctions relief. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool)

    From left, Vice Admiral Kurt Tidd, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov look to a boom microphone held by a member of the media, lower left corner, as they sit together during a photo opportunity during a meeting, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland, during the Iran nuclear talks. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of other major powers joined Iran nuclear talks on Saturday, throwing their weight behind a diplomatic push to complete a deal after envoys reported progress on key issues blocking an interim agreement to curb the Iranian program in return for limited sanctions relief. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool)  (The Associated Press)

  • British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks to journalists as he  arrives at the Intercontinental Hotel prior to talks on  Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, Switzerland, Saturday, Nov.  23, 2013.   U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of other major powers joined Iran nuclear talks on Saturday, throwing their weight behind a diplomatic push to complete a deal after envoys reported progress on key issues blocking an interim agreement to curb the Iranian program in return for limited sanctions relief. (AP Photo/Keystone,Jean-Christophe Bott)

    British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks to journalists as he arrives at the Intercontinental Hotel prior to talks on Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, Switzerland, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of other major powers joined Iran nuclear talks on Saturday, throwing their weight behind a diplomatic push to complete a deal after envoys reported progress on key issues blocking an interim agreement to curb the Iranian program in return for limited sanctions relief. (AP Photo/Keystone,Jean-Christophe Bott)  (The Associated Press)

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.

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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."

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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.