They were responding to a warning on Monday by deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, toppled in a June 28 coup, that he would quit talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias unless Honduras’ interim rulers agreed to restore him to office this weekend.
“All parties in the talks should give this process some time. Don’t set any artificial deadlines,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters in Washington.
Arias, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to help end Central American civil wars, has called a fresh round of talks for Saturday between representatives of Zelaya and envoys of interim Honduran President Roberto Micheletti.
But with both sides refusing to make concessions, Arias is struggling to keep alive hopes for a quick negotiated solution to Central America’s worst political crisis since the Cold War. Two days of talks in Costa Rica last week between the rival Honduran delegations failed to achieve any real progress.
Honduras, which exports bananas, coffee and textiles, has a long history of coups, returning to democracy only in the 1980s after 30 years of mainly military rule in the impoverished Central American country.
Zelaya, bolstered by world condemnation of the coup, insists his reinstatement is the only topic for any talks.
“The whole world … has said it will not recognize a military government with civilian puppets,” he told reporters in Guatemala on Tuesday after arriving for a visit.
But Micheletti’s interim government, installed by Honduras’ Congress after the coup, is adamant Zelaya cannot return to power under any circumstances because it says he was trying to illegally extend his rule by seeking to lift presidential term limits. His removal was lawful, Micheletti says.
The debate over how to solve the Honduran crisis is also developing into a tussle for influence in Latin America between Venezuela’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of Washington, and U.S. President Barack Obama, who is looking to improve strained U.S. relations with the region.
MEDIATOR URGES “PATIENCE”
“Of course, I understand President Zelaya’s desire to return and to be reinstated as president, as soon as possible,” Arias told reporters in San Jose.
But he added: “Experience tells me there must be patience … it is through dialogue that President Zelaya should be reinstated,” he said, asked about Zelaya’s ultimatum.
But most analysts see time being on the interim government’s side, as it sits tight heading toward scheduled general elections in November, which Micheletti says will go ahead, or could even be brought forward.
The mediation appeared badly bogged down, analysts said.
“The public positions that have been expressed up to now, don’t give any sign that they are moving toward common ground … I’m hoping there’s something more substantive being discussed behind closed doors,” said John Carey, Professor of Political Science at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
“If there isn’t a change of attitude from both sides … the talks will fail,” said Efrain Diaz, a political analyst with the Honduran NGO Center for Human Development.
No foreign government has recognized Micheletti as president. The United States, the Organization of American States and the U.N. General Assembly have called for Zelaya to be restored to office.
VENEZUELA, U.S. DIFFER OVER MEDIATION
The firm U.S. backing for Arias is in direct contrast to sharp condemnation of his mediation from Venezuela’s Chavez, who has dismissed the Costa Rica talks as “dead before they started” and a “crass error” by the Obama administration.
Chavez has called on Obama to apply more pressure on Micheletti to give power back to Zelaya.
Zelaya, a logging magnate who took office in 2006 and was due to leave power in 2010, is traveling the Americas to seek support. He ran afoul of his political base and ruling elites in conservative Honduras by allying himself with Chavez.
Micheletti has accused Chavez, who from his oil exporting country has built up an alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in Latin America, of meddling in Honduras.
Micheletti on Sunday held out the possibility of an amnesty for Zelaya if he returns home quietly and faces justice.
But Zelaya has dismissed the gesture.
“A failure of Oscar Arias’ attempts to settle the dispute would be a disaster for a region fighting to establish an iron-clad principle that unstable presidencies are no longer to be tolerated and that illegitimate seizures of power will no longer be recognized,” the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs think tank said in a briefing note. (Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Simon Gardner in Tegucigalpa; Sarah Grainger in Guatemala City; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Anthony Boadle)