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Clinton, Arias Urge Dialogue in Honduras After Zelaya's Return

By David Gollust
New York
22 September 2009

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias appealed for calm and dialogue in Honduras on Monday after the surprise return there of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Clinton met in New York with Mr. Arias, who has been trying to broker a peaceful resolution of the Honduran crisis.

The dramatic return of Mr. Zelaya dominated a previously-scheduled meeting on Honduras between Clinton and the Costa Rican leader, both of whom expressed hope that the latest turn of events does not lead to violence.

The left-leaning elected Honduran leader was arrested by the military and deported three months ago in a dispute over his efforts to stage a referendum that would have allowed him to remain in office beyond the end of his term, which ends in January.

Although officials in Tegucigalpa contend that Mr. Zelaya's ouster and replacement with interim President Roberto Micheletti was legal, the United States and other Organization of American States member countries say it was a coup d'etat, and the Obama administration has suspended most aid to Honduras.

At a photo session with Mr. Arias, a Nobel peace laureate tasked by the OAS with mediating the conflict, Clinton said it is imperative that Mr. Zelaya's return not lead to violence.

The Costa Rican president described the development as a moment of opportunity for Mr. Zelaya and his opponents to try to come to an agreement. And he said he is willing to go to the Honduran capital if both sides wished.

Later, at a briefing for reporters, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley said the United States had warned the deposed president not to try to return home in the absence of a negotiated settlement. But, he said, now that he has returned, the United States is urging all those involved to show restraint.

"The real issue is what happens now," said Crowley. "The Secretary made clear that given that this has taken place, now is the time for dialogue; now is the time for both sides to sign on to the San Jose accords and get on with the process of moving to a new government through the electoral process, and restoring democratic and constitutional order."

Crowley said the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens had spoken to Mr. Zelaya, who reportedly has taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa after his return under unexplained circumstances.

He said Clinton discussed the situation in a telephone call with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and that U.S. officials have also been in contact with the interim Honduran administration.

The United States has strongly supported the Arias settlement plan - the San Jose accords - under which Mr. Zelaya would return to office to serve out the remainder of his term, while those involved in his ouster would receive amnesty.

But Mr. Micheletti's de facto government has refused to consider any deal that would allow Mr. Zelaya to return to power.

Earlier this month, the United States revoked travel visas for members of the interim government and warned that it might not recognize the results of the country's upcoming presidential election planned for November 29.

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