On the hottest day of the year in Vienna, emergency air-conditioning units were deployed at the Iran nuclear talks, but it wasn’t enough to stop diplomats losing their cool.
As the negotiations grind on in the Austrian capital, frustrations have boiled over into decidedly undiplomatic confrontations. In one incident on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif could be heard shouting in nearby rooms.
A Kerry aide tip-toed into the room during the evening meeting at the Palais Coburg, a former aristocratic residence converted into a luxury hotel, to warn them that everyone outside could hear their row, according to Iranian state-run news agency IRNA.
Diplomats are feeling the pressure to meet a July 9 deadline to get a finalized deal to the U.S. Congress. If they don’t, lawmakers there will extend their review of the plan, and Iran may have to wait longer for sanctions relief.
Word of the clash spread quickly amongst diplomats.
“Seems like you had a constructive meeting last night; the whole hotel could hear you,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier quipped when he met Zarif the next day, IRNA reported.
In another meeting on the weapons embargo, Zarif erupted again when Western powers talked of Iran’s role in roiling the Middle East.
“If we are talking about regional security, I should take every one of you to international courts for supporting Saddam,” Zarif said, referring to the U.S. backing for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after he invaded Iran in 1980.
Another clash on Monday evening involved Zarif and Russia’s Sergei Lavrov telling Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, to lay off the “threats.”
The account, provided by Russian state-run news service RIA Novosti, identified a senior official from the group of six world powers telling Zarif that if he didn’t want to reach a deal, they could end the talks right then and there. IRNA identified that official as Mogherini.
According to RIA, Zarif snapped back: “Never try to threaten the Iranians,” prompting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to chime in: “Nor the Russians.” Russia and Iran are both pressing to end the arms ban.
In a placatory gesture, Zarif was quoted by IRNA as saying that Mogherini “has always had a very positive and constructive role in the negotiations,” adding that “our relationship has been government by mutual respect.”
News of the exchange compelled Iranians to start a Twitter hashtag -- #NeverThreatenAnIranian -- with posts of a defiant Persian kitten on its hind legs, a woman in a black veil aiming a bazooka, and Zarif as the cartoon superhero The Hulk.
A heatwave in the Austrian capital likely contributed to tensions with the mercury hitting 95 degrees Fahrenheit. At the grand 19th-century palace where diplomats are cooped up in vast rooms with weak temperature control, staff had to resort to emergency measures to cool ministers and their entourages.
During one late-night session, an air-conditioning unit and an electric ventilator were placed a few feet from the table where Kerry was seated in shirt-sleeves and tie.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan can’t have helped as some members of the Iranian delegation may be fasting at least part of every day.
Negotiators are feeling more than a little claustrophobic.
“It feels as if we’re locked in all day,” one Western official complained.
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