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How junk food has helped save the Iran nuclear talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (C, R) sits next to European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (C, L) as they meet with foreign ministers from the United States, France, Russia, Germany, China and Britain at the Palais Coburg Hotel where the Iran nuclear talks are being held in Vienna, Austria, on July 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / CARLOS BARRIACARLOS BARRIA/AFP/Getty Images
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VIENNA -- When exhausted American negotiators take an intellectual break from their endless nuclear talkathon with Iran, they sometimes indulge in flights of fancy imagining who could play them in a movie version of the experience.

By common consent, Meryl Steep would revise the look, though not the personality, of the editor in "The Devil Wears Prada" to portray the silver-haired and petite lead negotiator, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. Imagine Ted Danson filling the shoes of Secretary of State John F. Kerry. And with her long blond hair, Kirsten Dunst could be a ringer for the delegation's spokeswoman at the talks, Marie Harf.

The movie fantasizing, however, makes the work seem far more glamorous than it is in reality. The talks have been going on for a year and a half, usually in breathtaking locales in Switzerland and Austria virtually unseen by negotiators who spend most of their time cooped up in meeting rooms with curtains drawn or in hotel rooms surrounded by briefing papers.

The talks with Iran are now approaching an end, and growing even more intense as they tackle the most difficult issues that the negotiators kept putting off because it has been so hard to come up with acceptable compromises.

When one participant was asked whether the talks might extend through the summer, the response was preceded with a bone-weary sigh.

"God, we hope not," the negotiator said.

Some on the U.S. team -- including experts in sanctions, international law and nuclear energy -- have managed to sum up the whole draining experience in a set of numbers that, when taken together, paint a pretty depressing picture.

They have made 69 different trips across the Atlantic to attend talks, including 11 this year alone to Vienna. One particularly jet-lagged U.S. expert calculated that he had racked up 400,000 miles in the air, the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe 16 times.

Every single member of the team has celebrated at least one birthday at the negotiations. One is about to miss his wife's birthday, a big one, and in a fit of optimism has made atonement plans by scheduling an August trip to Italy.

They are fueled by enough snacks to satisfy a college fraternity. Just since the beginning of June, they have munched their way through 10 pounds of strawberry Twizzlers, 30 pounds of mixed nuts and dried fruit, 20 pounds of string cheese and more than 200 Rice Krispies Treats.

Is it a mere coincidence that everyone on the U.S. negotiating team has been sick at least once? Three people have made trips to the hospital, not counting Kerry after he broke a leg in a bicycling accident after a day negotiating in Switzerland.

As the latest round of talks has straggled beyond deadline day into its 11th straight day, often running past midnight and starting early the next morning, some of the negotiators are starting to look bit haggard, and their voices are once again growing hoarse from too much talking.

They get serious when talking about why they stick to it.

"No one is here for themselves," said an administration official. "Each person is here for the benefit of achieving the president's and the secretary's and our country's overall objectives."

Is Hollywood paying attention?