U.S. envoys meet Zelaya, de facto leader in Honduras


  • World
  • Thursday, 29 Oct 2009

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras' post-coup rulers invited ousted President Manuel Zelaya to fresh talks after a high-level U.S. delegation pressured both sides on Wednesday to resume negotiations to resolve the crisis.

The U.S. team, led by Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon and Dan Restrepo, the White House's special assistant for Western Hemisphere affairs, arrived on Wednesday for a last-ditch effort to broker a resolution to the impasse that has left the Central American country diplomatically isolated since Zelaya's army-backed overthrow.

They met Zelaya at the heavily guarded Brazilian Embassy where he has been holed up since he snuck back into the country last month and later sat down with de facto leader Roberto Micheletti, who was installed by Congress after the June 28 military coup.

"They're urging both sides to show flexibility and redouble their efforts to bring this crisis to an end," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants Zelaya and Micheletti to return to the negotiating table before a Nov. 29 presidential election. Washington has threatened to not recognize the vote unless a deal is reached and Zelaya says the vote will be invalid if he is not returned to office first.

A Micheletti representative described the meeting between the de facto leader and the U.S. diplomats as "fruitful" and invited Zelaya to return to the negotiating table on Thursday morning.

However Zelaya adviser Rasel Tome said the deposed president would not resume negotiations until the de facto government agreed to let him return to power. "We're not going to fall for sterile tricks," Tome told Radio Globo.

Repeated efforts to reach an agreement have stalled over the issue of whether Zelaya can be reinstated to complete his term, which is due to end in January.

DEMAND AGAINST BRAZIL

The latest round of talks collapsed on Friday and there was no indication there was any progress in resolving the issue on Wednesday.

"If the proposal is to reinstate me after the elections, I cannot endorse the elections," Zelaya told Reuters in a telephone interview after his meeting with the U.S. officials.

The leftist leader was toppled after he angered business leaders, the military and political rivals by moving Honduras closer to Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez.

The coup in the impoverished coffee-producing country has sparked the most serious political crisis in Central America in years, and posed a challenge to U.S. President Barack Obama after he vowed to improve relations with Latin America.

Irked by Zelaya's stay in the Brazilian Embassy, the de facto government presented a formal complaint against Brazil with the International Court of Justice in The Hague for intervening in Honduras' internal affairs, Carlos Lopez, who acts as Micheletti's foreign minister, said on Wednesday.

"A diplomatic mission should not be used as a trampoline, a platform ... for national politics," Lopez told reporters.

It was not clear if the court would consider the demand since the de facto leaders are not recognized internationally.

Brazil, trying for a more muscular foreign policy in the region, stepped up its role in the crisis when it gave Zelaya, his family and a group of supporters refuge in the embassy.

Critics say the United States is not doing enough to pressure Micheletti and is standing on the sidelines by letting Latin American governments and the Organization of American States take the lead on Honduras policy.

Human rights groups have documented major abuses by the de facto government and say free and fair elections will be impossible after Micheletti curbed civil liberties and temporarily shut opposition news outlets last month.

More than a dozen members of the U.S. Congress wrote to Obama this week, urging he refuse to recognize elections organized by Micheletti's government.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles in Washington; Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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