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U.S. to step up efforts in Honduran negotiations

October 23, 2009

The U.S. State Department is joining the political fray in Honduras this week after a decision by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to send a team of senior officials to seek a swifter settlement to end Honduras´ four-month-old stalemate.

The team will consist of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Craig Kelly and White House Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Restrepo, who will travel to Tegucigalpa on an unspecified day “later this week.”

“The Secretary yesterday (Monday) decided that the time was right to send this senior delegation down to get more directly involved in the process,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly during a news conference Tuesday. “They will urge both sides to show flexibility and redouble their efforts to bring the crisis to an end,” he said.

The administration of President Barack Obama had said earlier that it was letting the Organization of American States (OAS) – and, before that, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias – work to broker a deal between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti.

“We continue to support the OAS involvement in this. But the Secretary (Clinton) thought it was time for Assistant Secretary Shannon and NSC Senior Director Restrepo, as well as Craig Kelly, to get involved in this,” the spokesman said.

The visit will follow repeated remarks from both sides that negotiations have failed.

Kelly said there´s still reason to be optimistic that a deal will come from the talks, but both sides should feel a “sense of urgency” as the Nov. 29 elections approach.

The U.S. and European Union have both said they would not recognize the elections unless a deal is brokered between Zelaya and the interim government before then.

Negotiators in the Honduran crisis say they have reached agreements on every issue except Zelaya´s return to power. Both sides have made a flurry of proposals and counter-proposals to settle the issue, but each was resoundingly rejected.

Zelaya has said he will give up his earlier campaign to hold a public referendum on amending the constitution, which brought government charges against him and ultimately led to his exile. Critics say Zelaya wanted to use a constitutional assembly to abolish presidential term limits and remain in power, which he denies. 

Zelaya was removed from the presidential palace by the military and forced into exile in Costa Rica on June 28. On Sept. 21 he snuck back into the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where he continues to take refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.

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