It's an extremely technical business, negotiating a nuclear agreement. But in the case of the talks in Geneva last week over the Iranian program, a helpful level of understanding can be had simply by seeing who goes where. The easiest way to tell that Tehran and world powers were close to at least an interim accord over the weekend was seeing who showed up unexpectedly in Geneva: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry broke off a trip to northern Africa to swoop in, joining European diplomats of the rank appropriate for signing such a document, should one be agreed upon.
And when it became clear there was nothing to sign there was more rapid and unscheduled travel: Kerry's chief negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, went immediately from Geneva to Jerusalem, to brief not only government officials and but Israeli experts and columnists gathered at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Israel has no seat at the negotiations, but it played a huge role in bringing them about by threatening airstrikes – and it's playing a pivotal role in how the talks are perceived elsewhere, including the U.S. Congress.
The message from the Obama administration after the talks was that Washington was not out-toughed by France in the negotiations, as initial reports from Geneva had it. "France and other countries came with new ideas, but on Saturday we were united on the wording of the agreement," a senior American official was quoted as telling the Israeli press. "We placed a tough deal on the table and the Iranians were the ones who didn't take it. I hope the Iranians don't miss it. But in any event we are in no hurry."