TEGUCIGALPA - Four weeks after the military overthrew and expelled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Central America's worst political crisis in 20 years looks as intractable as ever.
Here are some scenarios on how the crisis could play out:
STANDOFF DRAGS ON
A stalemate could persist, with Zelaya in exile and the interim government holding out until elections due on November 29 which de facto Honduran leader Roberto Micheletti says will go ahead.
Governments around the world have called for Zelaya's return to power but Washington, which holds most sway, has not imposed trade sanctions and appears to be showing some frustration with Zelaya, calling his attempt to return home this week without an agreement reckless.
Multinational lenders halted aid programs to the impoverished country soon after the coup and the United States suspended $16.5 million in military assistance but has so far stopped short of harsher economic sanctions.
Micheletti's government, backed by Congress, the Supreme Court, the military, the Catholic Church and many in business, seems to be gambling that after an election monitored by outside observers, the world will end its isolation of Honduras and accept the new order.
Without serious pressure from the United States, Honduras' No. 1 trading partner, Micheletti may be right.
The Organization of American States, which suspended Honduras after the coup, has said it will not recognize the outcome of any elections held under the de facto government.
The two leading candidates are the ruling Liberal Party's Elvin Santos and the conservative opposition National Party's Porfirio Lobo, who is ahead in opinion polls. The two parties dominate Honduran politics and both are largely conservative, though the Liberal Party is slightly less so. Neither of the candidates want Zelaya back as president.
Zelaya's confrontation with the country's institutions hurt his popularity ahead of the coup and he drew ridicule from his critics for his televised attempt to return on Friday.
A BROKERED SOLUTION
Diplomatic and economic sanctions could force the interim government to agree to a compromise -- Zelaya could return but with powers severely curtailed, or a third party could take over the presidency, such as the head of the Supreme Court who would be next in line according to the Constitution.
During negotiations mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, Micheletti's envoys held out the possibility of his stepping down to make way for a coalition government on the condition Zelaya does not seek a return to power.
Micheletti said he would consider an amnesty for Zelaya if he agrees to return quietly to Honduras and face justice for his alleged violations of the law.
The interim government has also suggested bringing forward the November elections, in which neither Micheletti nor Zelaya would run for the presidency.
Zelaya says the Costa Rica process is dead since the interim government will not accept his return.
The Honduran armed forces, which have close ties to the U.S. military, expressed support for the negotiations but would be wary if Zelaya returned as president.
ZELAYA RETURNS, RISK OF VIOLENCE
Despite tough talk, Zelaya has shown little appetite in recent days for forcing a return to Honduras without a political deal, taking only a few symbolic steps on Honduran soil on Friday before pulling back, saying he did not want to spark a massacre.
A previous attempt to fly home in a Venezuelan plane on July 5 was blocked by the military and sparked clashes between soldiers and his supporters, killing one protester.
Micheletti's government accuses Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez of interference, and there is growing unease in Washington about Zelaya's friendship with the socialist Chavez, a harsh critic of all things American.
Chavez put troops on alert when Zelaya was toppled last month and has played a polarizing role in the crisis by ramping up the threatening rhetoric, although most analysts doubt his military prowess is enough to actually intervene.
Zelaya was ousted in part because local politicians and business leaders feared he aimed to impose a Chavez-style socialist government in Honduras.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)