U.S. Treads Cautiously In Honduras Dispute

The ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, is plotting his return, having gained international support both at the United Nations and at the Organization of American States. The OAS on Wednesday gave Honduras 72 hours to reinstate Zelaya or the country faces expulsion from the regional group.

The Obama administration has backed these efforts, though in a characteristically cautious way. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly says "the multilateral route is the way to go" and the United States is "watching to see how the OAS process plays out."

Zelaya had previously said he would seek to return to Honduras on Thursday, but he delayed his return following the OAS ultimatum. Zelaya was in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday and held talks with U.S. officials on the sidelines of the OAS session.

The U.S. has found itself with strange bedfellows in this case, working alongside Venezuela and Nicaragua to try to reverse the coup against a leftist Latin American leader.

Zelaya, elected in 2005 to a single, four-year term, was seized by soldiers on Sunday and swiftly flown out of the country. He was backing a national referendum in an effort to extend his time in office, despite a Honduran Supreme Court ruling that his effort was unconstitutional.

On Sunday, the Honduran Congress voted to replace Zelaya with the president of Congress, Roberto Micheletti.

U.S. Maintains Diplomatic Relations

Amid the turmoil, a Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. is suspending some joint military activities with Honduras. However, the U.S. has not recalled its ambassador or cut off aid, as other countries have.

Michael Shifter, an analyst with Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank, says the Obama administration is trying to take a stand without punishing Hondurans.

"They are looking for a middle ground," Shifter says. "It is cautious, but that is characteristic of the Obama administration ... and certainly the reaction in Latin America, as far as I can tell, has been very positive."

Shifter says there is still some complicated diplomacy involved in restoring Zelaya to power in Honduras.

"However one feels about him and however much blame he may have had himself in bringing on this crisis, there is a principle involved," he says. But there has to be a compromise, Shifter says, "He can't go back and continue what he was doing, which is really pushing ahead in a desperate way to try to cling to power."

At the United Nations on Tuesday, the ousted president denied he would try to seek another term.

"If I was offered the possibility of remaining in power, I would not do it," Zelaya said through an interpreter, adding he only wants to complete his term, which ends in January. Then, he said he would take his straw hat and boots back to his family's farm.

Zelaya managed to win much international support when he made the rounds this week at the United Nations and in Washington.

In Panama, Plotting His Return

He traveled to Panama on Wednesday, where he was planning his return to Honduras later this week with several Latin American leaders in tow.

Authorities in Honduras say they will arrest him, setting the stage for a showdown. But Zelaya obviously feels he has the backing he needs, including from the U.S.

Zelaya met Tuesday evening with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon and Dan Restrepo, Obama's senior adviser on Latin America. According to the State Department, Zelaya thanked the Obama administration for its strong statements on the situation and for working with others in the region to try to get him home.

"I have listened to President Obama," Zelaya told reporters. "It is not only that he condemns the events, but he has demanded the restoration of the president."

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