Bets vary, but the oddsmakers at Turtle Bay say the U.N. Security Council will agree on sanctions for Iran sometime in November. Will the Persian people, who have yet to see any downside to their mullahs' race toward a nuclear bomb, be impressed?
A new French-British-German proposal that was circulated on Friday would punish Iran's defiance of a Security Council directive to suspend uranium enrichment with mild sanctions.
The built-in weakness in the European proposal is designed to appeal to China and Russia, but further dilution might be needed for the two to sign on. Washington, meanwhile, wants the proposed sanctions to be further tightened.
Regardless, the proposed sanctions have little punitive value beyond that of the council agreeing to enact them. Too many countries fear confronting petroleum-producing Iran, which can retaliate by canceling contracts or wreaking terrorist havoc, as it did in Argentina in 1994, according to a Buenos Aires court ruling last week.
Passing a sanctions resolution against Iran is by itself an important symbolic act. But if symbolism is the goal, other Turtle Bay measures might be more meaningful.
Elie Wiesel has proposed revoking Iran's membership on the grounds that it violated the U.N. charter by calling for the elimination of a member state. Others say it might be more realistic for the General Assembly to deny Tehran the right to vote, as was done to Serbia during the Balkans wars.
The goal of such suggestions is to isolate and hurt the mullahs where it counts: Persian national pride and the sense of superiority that so far has soared after each announcement of a nuclear advance. It is doubtful, however, that the assembly, where sympathy for the anti-American mullahs runs deep, could unite behind such measures.
So, back to the smaller and more powerful — but not necessarily less fractured — Security Council, and to the question of how to add muscle to its action.
The seven-page European proposal is double the size of what such a resolution should be. After each paragraph that threatens a tough measure against Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, there is another long paragraph that describes cases in which the tough measure "shall not apply." The exemption list ends up longer than the list of punitive measures.
The European proposal would ban travel by any Iranian connected with the country's illicit programs. Those whose travel could be justified "on the grounds of humanitarian need, including religious obligation" would be exempt. Such a waiver might apply to all members of Iran's clerical regime, who believe Allah obliges them to enhance his glory by advancing the nuclear program.
The most significant exemption involves the ban on international assistance to the nuclear and missile program. In one long paragraph, the multibillion-dollar, 12-year-old Russian-backed plutonium project in Bushehr is excluded, with detailed exemptions for each of the sanctions specified elsewhere in the text.
Last week, after a meeting in Jerusalem with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, Israel's vice premier, Shimon Peres, criticized the proposed sanctions as "weak." Time is running short and "the world cannot afford a nuclear Iran," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni added.
"The critical point is not the day of an explosion but the day when Iran masters the technology," Ms. Livni said, "and that day is far closer than the day of the explosion."
Diplomats involved in the council negotiations tell me that the Europeans took into account the Russian and Chinese argument that the resolution on Iran should be distinct from the punitive measures the council took on North Korea, as Pyongyang has already tested while Iran is merely suspected of developing a bomb.
In what could be considered a personal victory for America's U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, the council adopted his initiative allowing interdiction on the high seas of cargo ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction. When it involves North Korea, the council turned such action into international law, whereas in the past it was applied only by forces in a "coalition of the willing.
Not coincidentally, the Associated Press is reporting that American ships, along with some from five other countries, today will interdict a British vessel in the Persian Gulf in a mock interception of dangerous weapons technology.
The drill could remind Iran of some more muscular alternatives to Turtle Bay's diplomacy, which would be meaningless without the implications of such threats.