And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was packing up to go home that night.
As the two sides gathered at the table after lunch, Secretary of State John F. Kerry successfully appealed to Lavrov, saying that he and his team would stay as long as it took. He would talk into the night, he said. He would get up as early as necessary the next day.
According to a State Department official’s account of the negotiations, which began Thursday evening and ended Saturday afternoon with a framework accord to secure and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, it was a deal that almost did not happen.
In the end, the deal was written entirely by the U.S. side. The Russians agreed to it in an impromptu poolside conversation between Kerry, Lavrov and their deputies, who dragged over chairs to join them. Kerry made final edits to the draft on an iPad in his hotel room.
The version of events offered Sunday by the senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door conversations, was both riveting and self-serving. Russian officials offered no recounting of their own, except to emphasize that the deal was their idea, discussed in general terms over the past year but not seriously addressed until they proposed it last week.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who had no representative in Geneva, was similarly closemouthed. In an interview with RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency, Syrian National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said the agreement would “help Syrians come out of the crisis” and had “prevented the war against Syria by having removed a pretext for those who wanted to unleash it.”
In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the course of the Geneva talks, but the newspaper Kommersant reported that the Russian delegation was unsure until almost the end whether the United States would accept international control of Syria’s chemical weapons. If Kerry had balked, the effort would likely have collapsed.
The Russian press portrayed the agreement as a diplomatic triumph for Russia, though noting that the outcome was beneficial to the United States and President Obama as well.
Not everyone agreed.
“It is Putin and not Obama at all who is applauded for prevention of the war in Syria,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, wrote in a tweet. “Half the world backed Russia in this tug-of-war with the United States.”
Nikolai Zlobin, a political analyst, was quoted in the Vedomosti newspaper as saying that, having shouldered responsibility for the agreement on Syria, “Russia will have a lot on its plate.”