Patience an acquired virtue at Iran talks
VIENNA, July 8, 2015 - In the frenetic, 24-hour news cycle world of instant messaging, Tweets, Snapchats and texts, patience has almost become an outmoded, lost virtue.
But for 12 days now, more than 500 accredited journalists gathered in Vienna for the last stages of the talks to curb Iran's nuclear programme have become experts in killing time.
Teams from seven countries are working around-the-clock behind closed doors bargaining and haggling over every word of what will be one of the world's most complex non-proliferation agreements ever.
They are seeking to reach a deal on curbing Iran's nuclear programme for the next decade at least, and in return agreeing ways to lift a web of international sanctions which have mushroomed over the years.
Each word is weighed, debated and pondered to ensure the deal is as water-tight as possible and stands up to global scrutiny.
For the reporters from around the world trying to cover the negotiations however, information is sparse, days are long and confusion reigns. No one really knows which way this could go.
In the height of absurdity, reporters travelling with US Secretary of State John Kerry found out Tuesday that the talks would bust through that day's deadline when the hotel staff put up a notice saying their stay had been extended - ahead of the official announcement from the EU about an hour later.
Even at this late stage and after 12 days of wrangling, the official delegations gathered in the Austrian capital are preparing for three scenarios - success, failure and yet another extension of an interim deal that was brokered back in November 2013.
Only those deep in the talks know what is really going on, and while they come out occasionally to drip-feed some snippet of information to hungry news crews, incredibly little of what has already been put to paper has leaked.
Luckily, Vienna is a beautiful city. So for some the first few days were an unexpected chance for some sight-seeing.
There were visits to the Belvedere museum which houses Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss," shopping trips to find bargains at the summer sales, bike rides around the city, even dips in the Danube to cool off in the hot summer sun.
An Austrian policeman cools off with an ice cream outside the Palais Coburg Hotel in Vienna on July 3, 2015
(AFP Photo / Joe Klamar)
Some intrepid teams even hired cars and visited neighbouring Slovakia, or ventured into the Austrian mountains resplendent with summer flowers.
One afternoon, Spike the security dog and his handler provided some entertainment with his obedience tricks, becoming an instant star for idling cameramen.
But as the days stretched past a week and neared two weeks, the mood turned glum.
"Do you know anything?" "When are we going home?" people would ask. "How many times can I write the same thing?"
Some used the time wisely to cram up on the technicalities of nuclear power and the arms industry, or to try to navigate through the maze of international sanctions imposed on Iran.
The large media tent erected in the shadow of the Coburg Hotel, where the talks are being held, as well as the ground-floor cool cafe in the next-door Marriott Hotel has become a gathering place.
American journalists who rarely have contact with their counterparts from places like Iran and Russia, not exactly known for their press freedom, cheerfully greet each other, exchange stories and email addresses.
The generous Austrian hosts have laid on free coffee, tea and iced water. And in the afternoons a small fridge is wheeled in stacked with a choice of ice-cream. It empties fast.
And at night outside the tent, groups can be seen sharing an improvised picnic using folding chairs as tables, lit by camera lights.
Surprisingly apart from a few heated phone exchanges with frustrated editors wanting to know what's happening, tempers have rarely flared despite creeping boredom and long stretches of inactivity.
Most of the journalists here have followed the twists and turns of the talks for almost two years, and sensing that they are on the cusp of witnessing an historic agreement between old adversaries, they want to be part of the story.
But it often requires hard choices.
One journalist missed their father's 101th birthday, another has to go to a funeral just as the talks could reach a climax, someone else's wife is just days away from giving birth.
One reporter faces possible difficulties because his visa is due to expire any day now, while yet another is stuck in Vienna while the family is preparing a trans-Atlantic move from Washington in just a matter of days.
Yet few want to bail, and so the waiting games goes on, and no-one has a clue when it will end.
Jo Biddle is an AFP correspondent at the US State Department. Follow her on Twitter.