VIENNA, Austria -- Condoleezza Rice walked into our interview this morning at 3 a.m. Washington time, ready to explain the Iran initiative that may become her foreign policy legacy. The former National Security Advisor, who acquiesced when George W. Bush declared Iran a charter member of the "Axis of Evil" rogue nations, had spent her first year and a half as secretary of state moving the administration toward this moment: a united front with the U.S., Europe, Russia and China -- all taking a more or less common approach to Iran.
The "money shot" of their joint statement after hours of talks the night before took place in the cold, windy garden court of the British ambassador to Austria's stately home. But behind all this diplomacy was a tedious, sometimes difficult game of superpower scrabble. What's a five-letter word for "sanctions" that won't scare the Iranians off before they even read the proposal? How about "steps?"
So, while the foreign ministers hammered out a list of ways to punish Iran if it refuses to suspend its nuclear fuel enrichment, they worked almost as hard on a one-page statement that wouldn't sound too punitive. Clearly, even they didn't know how hard a task it would be.
Sitting cozily in a nearby hotel and contemplating food after an all-night flight from Washington and no chance to change clothes or nap, we reporters were suddenly summoned to the garden to hear the outcome of all this negotiating. There was a sense of electricity in the air. Russia and China were finally going to agree to pressure Iran. So we waited. It got colder. None of us had coats. An hour passed. Was there a last-minute glitch in the talks? It was now about 40 degrees, damp and windy. We were shivering and our poor camera crews were standing in position, dead on their feet. The press corps got restless. Clearly, this was going to be a huge setback for American diplomacy.
Finally, our British hosts realized a diplomatic disaster was pending: An angry press corps, hungry and cold, and no outcome in sight. Suddenly waiters appeared with trays of beer and wine. Instantly, the surly press mob became more reasonable. Finally, the ministers interrupted their dinner to issue the statement -- and as midnight approached, we were able to file our reports.
This morning, Secretary Rice simply sighed and said, "I'm a morning person." Apparently her diplomatic colleagues are not. But this time, another late night of talks resulted in an agreement, not the usual U.S./Russian confrontation over Iran. Now they all wait for the next step in this nuclear diplomacy.
This morning, as Secretary Rice flew home, I realized that for the first time in 25 years of covering presidents and secretaries of state, I had been to Vienna. I'd spent 24 hours across the street from the famed opera house, with signs everywhere celebrating Mozart's 250th anniversary, and I hadn't heard a musical note. Sadly for Condoleezza Rice –- a passionate fan of Mozart and Brahms –- she had spent the last day in this fabled musical city the same way. But at least her talks were more harmonious than usual.