Costa Rican President To Mediate Honduran Crisis

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Tuesday that Costa Rican President Oscar Arias will soon begin a mediation effort in Honduras. Her announcement came after a meeting with deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

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Washington has been in the center of some Latin American diplomacy today as the ousted president of Honduras seeks to return to power. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Manuel Zelaya at the State Department. There's also a different Honduran delegation in Washington trying to explain why the military ousted him.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has this story on the search for compromise.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The Obama administration, trying to handle this behind the scenes, letting the Organization of American States take the lead in pressuring Honduras to allow Zelaya to return to power. But after Zelaya's failed bid to fly home over the weekend, a move the U.S. tried to prevent, he's back in Washington with his trademark white hat in hand, he came to the State Department for a long-awaited meeting with Secretary Clinton, who has been critical of his policies, but has also denounced his ouster.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We have taken this position because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders whether they are leaders we agree with or not.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton announced that Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias will soon begin a mediation effort. She said that's been the U.S. goal to get the two sides talking to each other directly.

Sec. CLINTON: I was heartened that President Zelaya agreed with this. I believe it is a better route for him to follow at this time than to attempt to return in the face of the implacable opposition of the de facto regime. And so instead of another confrontation that might result in the loss of life, let's try the dialogue process and see where that leads.

KELEMEN: Clinton said that the de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, has also agreed to the mediation. Some of his allies have been making the rounds in Washington, accusing Zelaya of a power grab and defending the decision to oust the Honduran leader. Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue says it will be difficult to find a compromise, because those in power now don't want Zelaya back, even if it is only to serve out his remaining six months in office.

Mr. MICHAEL SHIFTER (Inter-American Dialogue): There's a lot of resistance to him coming back, even if his powers are constrained, even if he has limited authority, even if he can't run again. So there has been just tremendous resistance, and in this respect, that the fact the government is unified. At the same time, they clearly are in deep trouble because they can't really govern without support of the international community.

KELEMEN: There has already been some violence. So Shifter says the Obama administration and others in the region need to work quickly to calm things down.

Mr. SHIFTER: The worst thing that could happen for Honduras, certainly, and also just for the wider region in Central America that's increasingly combustible, is for there to be this violence. If we've learned anything from Latin America, that sometimes what seem like little sparks and minor problems develop into full-blown crises that become much harder to deal with down the road.

KELEMEN: Costa Rica's president won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping to resolve Central American civil wars in the 1980s. So Secretary Clinton says he's the natural person to deal with the current crisis in Honduras. And until a deal is reached, Clinton says, the U.S. has paused non-humanitarian aid to Honduras.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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