This fourth round of sanctions comes during an unprecedented set of circumstances. Two of the Security Council's nonpermanent members, Brazil and Turkey, have just finalized a uranium swap deal with Tehran, which on the surface appeared that it might have averted the sanctions threat.
But less than 48 hours after the Tehran deal was signed, the United States pushed forward with the new draft, backed apparently by all five Security Council permanent members.
Diplomats at the UN wouldn't use the expression "a slap in the face," but that's pretty much how Brazil and Turkey are feeling now.
Turkey's permanent representative at the UN, Ertugrul Apakan, exited the sanctions resolution debate on May 18 through a staircase not accessible to UN reporters and did not speak to the media.
Brazil's permanent representative, Maria Viotti, spoke briefly only in Portuguese to Brazilian journalists, even though she is an excellent English speaker.
According to one Brazilian reporter, Viotti said what was going on right now in the council was "not the right approach" and that Brazil and Turkey will stand by their Tehran obligations.
Some UN diplomats are saying privately that it is unlikely the vote will take place before the end of the 2010 review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on May 28.
The two issues -- Iran's noncompliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency's request to verify the nature of its uranium-enrichment program and the NPT review conference -- are separate matters but in some ways intrinsically linked. Iran's pursuit of peaceful nuclear energy use is implied in the treaty as a member's right.
At the same time, the strong suspicion of Western powers that Tehran is actually trying to develop nuclear weapons underscores one of the treaty's weaknesses, the verification process.
UN diplomats say that the United States wouldn't want to alienate further some of the council's undecided nonpermanent members by pushing for a faster adoption.
Besides Brazil and Turkey, it has been reported that Lebanon and even Austria, two of the other Security Council nonpermanent members, have also expressed doubts on the sanctions approach.
To add further uncertainty to the timeframe both the Russian and the Chinese ambassadors to the UN said after the council meeting on May 18 that sanctions are still only one of the venues to be explored.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador in the UN, made it very clear that while Moscow had decided to go along with the draft resolution, it was not a co-sponsor. His words were echoed later by Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minster, who said that the work on the draft is "far from completion."
Li Baodong, China's ambassador, stressed three times in his four-minute address to the media after the council's meeting that "diplomacy" and "negotiations" have not been exhausted and should be further explored.
The sanctions may be adopted by a single majority vote (eight votes) if none of the council's permanent members object to them. But it is clear that for them to deliver the desirable political message to Tehran, the United States certainly needs more than just a simple majority.
-- Nikola Krastev