Twizzlers, string cheese, and mixed nuts (in large quantities) fuel Iran nuclear negotiators
VIENNA — The US negotiating team here over the past five weeks has gone through 10 pounds of Twizzlers (strawberry flavored), 20 pounds of string cheese, 30 pounds of mixed nuts and dried fruit, and more than 200 Rice Krispies Treats.
“The number of espresso pods we’ve gone through,” said one top US official, “is in the hundreds.”
They have yet to put a dent in Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, but Secretary of State John Kerry and his team of experts have racked up impressive numbers for junk food consumed and international miles logged.
One team member calculated they have traveled 400,000 miles — enough to circumnavigate the earth 16 times — during the past 18 months of intense negotiations with Iran.
Behind all those photo-ops with Kerry and other diplomats in crisp suits and ornate conference rooms is an off-stage operation with the feel of a college dorm room during exam week, complete with all-nighters and off-color jokes.
The American delegation here — in Vienna for at least the 17th time in the past 18 months — has been at it long enough to celebrate just about everyone’s birthday at least once (including one the other night, with 3 liters of Zanoni & Zanoni gelato). One staffer has documented evidence of almost every person in the delegation falling asleep. Everyone has been sick, and there have been at least four trips to the hospital, including a broken nose for chief negotiator Wendy Sherman and a broken femur for Kerry.
During idle hours, they have debated who among them would be played by what stars, if any producer for some reason decided to make a movie about how the United States and Iran tried to overcome decades of distrust to craft an agreement limiting Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb.
Kerry, US delegation members decided, would be played by Ted Danson, while Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz would be portrayed by Javier Bardem (from “No Country for Old Men”). The silver-haired Sherman would be played by Meryl Streep (as captured in “The Devil Wears Prada”). And Marie Harf, a senior communications adviser, would be portrayed by Kirsten Dunst.
Negotiations, which were delayed yet again on Tuesday and could last until Friday (or longer), have stretched so long that some in the delegation are taking their laundry to places where only German is spoken and only cash accepted. Some planned their wardrobes better.
“Pack a lot of underwear,” Moniz advised a reporter just before the trip.
Day after day, diplomats from seven countries and their extensive staffs have shuffled in and out of the Palais Coburg, a 19th-century palace that has been converted into a hotel. They walk through rooms with red carpet and large ceilings and enter grand rooms filled with flowers as they prepare to discuss some of the world’s weightiest issues.
During breaks, the European Union offers a salad bar and five big chafing trays, with options that include vegetables, fish, and pasta. The Iranian delegation has its own dining room, for both privacy and dietary preferences.
Vienna has been blanketed with stifling heat that has infiltrated the negotiating rooms. Fans and portable air conditioners have been brought in. Diplomats remove jackets and ties, sitting with multiple glasses of water and juice in front of them, as if trying to stay hydrated for a prize fight.
But the talks have dragged on. So long that some in the Iranian delegation had to leave the nearby Marriott hotel the other day after their reservations ran out and new guests were ready to occupy their rooms.
It’s not exactly a hardship post, being forced to spend weeks in one of the world’s grandest cities. But most have experienced very little of Vienna’s culture. Some wake up early in the morning to go for a run along the Ringstrasse, a 150-year-old, ringed boulevard.
The go-to restaurant for the US delegation has been Da Capo Pizzeria, a small Italian eatery with exposed brick and a wood-fired oven. Usually they head there on the last night of a negotiating round, for a celebratory meal.
They’re hoping to do so again, this time to celebrate a final deal. They just don’t know when . . . or even if.
The Globe’s Matt Viser discussed Iran talks on PRI this week: