Nuke scene: Food on floor, catnaps as Kerry & co. seal deal

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Tenative Iran Nuclear Agreement Reached

WASHINGTON (AP) - Food boxes strewn across the floor. The espresso machine constantly buzzing in the background. Sleepless nights punctuated by long talk sessions in different rooms on different floors. Physicists occasionally catnapping, heads on table.

No, this wasn't a college cram session for a major exam. It was the scene at one of Switzerland's finest hotels as U.S. diplomats worked hour upon hour to reach a landmark nuclear deal with Iran this week.

For America's diplomats, the sessions included lots of room service and messy brainstorming sessions. And if the pressure wasn't enough, there was Secretary of State John Kerry popping into the room to pull individuals aside or tell them to accelerate their efforts, according to U.S. officials, who weren't authorized to speak publicly about behind-the-scenes interactions and demanded anonymity.

Kerry, too, exhausted himself in sealing the framework deal that outlines how Iran would scale back its nuclear program and how the U.S. and its negotiating partners would roll back sanctions crippling the Iranian economy. Those steps are contingent on six nations and Iran following the framework up with a comprehensive accord by the end of June.

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US Iran Nuclear Talks -- Congress -- John Kerry -- updated 5/22/2015
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Nuke scene: Food on floor, catnaps as Kerry & co. seal deal
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (2nd L) (R-TN) gavels the start of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup meeting on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A bipartisan compromise reached by Corker and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) would create a review period that is shorter than originally proposed for a final nuclear deal with Iran and creates compromise language on the removal of sanctions contingent on Iran ceasing support for terrorism. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (L) (R-TN) shakes hands with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (R) (D-MD) during a committee markup meeting on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A bipartisan compromise reached by Corker and Cardin would create a review period that is shorter than originally proposed for a final nuclear deal with Iran and creates compromise language on the removal of sanctions contingent on Iran ceasing support for terrorism. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (Rear), a Republican presidential candidate, passes Sen. Marco Rubio (bottom), a Republican presidential candidate, as senators make their opening remarks during a markup meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A bipartisan compromise reached by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) would create a review period that is shorter than originally proposed for a final nuclear deal with Iran and creates compromise language on the removal of sanctions contingent on Iran ceasing support for terrorism. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 08: Acting U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf conducts a daily press briefing at the State Department April 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. Harf spoke on various topics including the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama makes a statement at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 2, 2015 after a deal was reached on Iran's nuclear program. Iran and world powers agreed on the framework of a potentially historic deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear drive after marathon talks in Switzerland. (Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 02: A teleprompter shows the text for U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks on negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program on April 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. In exchange for Iran's agreement to curb their country's nuclear proliferation, the United States would lift some of the crippling sanctions imposed. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 2: U.S. President Barack Obama boards Air Force One after making a statement on Iran nuclear negotiations in the White House April 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. The so-called P5+1 nations reached an agreement for an Iranian nuclear program and a process to lift sanctions against Iran after talks in Switzerland. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) walks with bodyguard in the garden of the Beau-Rivage Palace hotel during a break in Iran nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 1, 2015. Rollercoaster talks aimed at stopping Iran getting a nuclear bomb went into extra time amid cautious signs that after seven days of tough negotiations a framework deal may be near.  (Photo credit: ABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) gestures while waiting for the opening of a plenary session with P5+1 ministers, European Union and Iranian minister on Iran nuclear talks at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 31, 2015. Foreign ministers from major powers kicked off early a final scheduled day of talks aimed at securing the outlines of a potentially historic nuclear deal with Iran by a midnight deadline. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 31: P5+1 Ministers, European Union and Iranian officials wait for the opening of a plenary session on Iran nuclear talks at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 31, 2015. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 31: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier waits for the opening of a plenary session on Iran nuclear talks P5+1 Ministers, European Union and Iranian officials at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 31, 2015. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA - FEBRUARY 5: Senator Tom Cotton speaks during a news conference with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee about arming Ukraine in the fight against Russia in Washington, D.C. on February 5, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd L) poses for photographers with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (2nd L), Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (4th L), Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) and Minority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (DIL) (R) prior to a meeting at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. At the risk of further straining the relationship between Israel and the Obama Administration, Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress warning congressional members against what he considers an ill-advised nuclear deal with Iran. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 3: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before joint session of Congress, on March, 03, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (Far R) goes for a stroll with assistant and security on the shore of Lake Geneva upon his arrival on February 22, 2015 in Geneva. Kerry arrived in Geneva for renewed talks with his Iranian counterpart on Tehran's nuclear programme, after warning 'significant gaps' remain as a key deadline approaches. Kerry is set to sit down for two days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country denies its nuclear programme has military objectives. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) arrives at his hotel on February 22, 2015 in Geneva. Kerry arrived in Geneva for renewed talks with his Iranian counterpart on Tehran's nuclear programme, after warning 'significant gaps' remain as a key deadline approaches. Kerry is set to sit down for two days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country denies its nuclear programme has military objectives. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) walks back to his hotel after on February 23, 2015 in Geneva. Washington and Tehran's top diplomats sat down again on February 23 for talks on Iran's nuclear program as they struggled to narrow gaps ahead of a key deadline. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) goes for a stroll with assistants and security along the shores of Lake Geneva upon his arrival on February 22, 2015 in Geneva. Kerry arrived in Geneva for renewed talks with his Iranian counterpart on Tehran's nuclear programme, after warning 'significant gaps' remain as a key deadline approaches. Kerry is set to sit down for two days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country denies its nuclear programme has military objectives. (Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 21: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a media briefing at the U.S. Embassy on February 21, 2015 in London, England. Earlier Kerry met with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond and it's expected that the issue of the continuing conflict in the Ukraine will dominate talks between the two nations. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)
Is the U.S. being too soft on Iran when negotiating on sanctions and a potential nuclear deal? Strategic Policy Consulting's Alireza Jafarzadeh and WSJ's Simon Constable discuss.
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From the start of March through Thursday's breakthrough, Kerry spent 19 days in the Swiss cities of Geneva, Lausanne and Montreux negotiating with the Iranians. For much of that time, the Europeans, Chinese and Russians stayed away or sent lower-level officials. Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spent more than 10 hours together in one-on-one sessions.

The last round of discussions began March 26 with the goal of wrapping up work within five days.

The U.S. would extend the talks by two days, regularly preparing the plane for departure so the Iranians wouldn't think the talks were open-ended. Journalists were told three times to drop off their bags, only to then be instructed to extend their hotel room bookings. Plane crews kept crashing against mandatory rest periods after 15 hours on standby.

Kerry tried to keep a clear head, taking to his bicycle during the limited down time he had. Of his three rides, two were interrupted when President Barack Obama called and demanded an update on the status of the negotiations. In those instances, Kerry had to rush back to Lausanne's 19th century Beau-Rivage Palace to dial into secure calls.

When talk of physics with the Iranians got too nitty-gritty, Kerry and Zarif sent their nation's top scientists out of the room to discuss the matter fully. U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Iranian atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who studied at M.I.T. at the same time, would meet one-on-one and then report back on what they discussed.

And when the secretary of state needed calculations or tweaks, officials described him putting his team to work and sometimes popping in to let them know they needed to move more quickly.

Kerry took an unusually hands-on approach to the negotiations, they said. This included getting involved in details as granular as travel plans for the other foreign ministers and helping with scheduling conflicts. After Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left, Kerry persuaded him to come back.

The critical meeting with the Iranians lasted nine hours between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, finally ending at 6 a.m. Emotions at times ran high as sleep deprivation kicked in. Officials acknowledged that at several times Kerry "had it."

But he and other negotiators pressed on. Not everything went smoothly.

At 3 a.m. that evening, U.S. nuclear experts scribbled out some classified information on the whiteboard they were using to explore ideas. The only problem was that someone used a permanent marker by mistake.

It took 20 minutes to scrub the information off, officials said.

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