Friday, August 28, 2009

The interim president of Honduras has offered the man he replaced after a June coup the chance to return to the country on the condition that both renounce claims to the presidency, a negotiator said Thursday.

Arturo Corrales, a member of a three-man Honduran panel seeking an end to the standoff, told The Washington Times that Roberto Micheletti was willing to make the concessions to restore peace and prosperity to Honduras following the coup against Manuel Zelaya.

The offer represents a turnaround by Mr. Micheletti, who has insisted until now that Mr. Zelaya should have been arrested rather than deported to Costa Rica on June 28. Mr. Zelaya was deposed by the military after he sought to change the constitution to allow him to run for a second term.

Lanny Davis, a prominent Washington attorney who represents the Honduran Latin American Business Council, said the new proposal “shows Mr. Micheletti is not concerned about power — he is offering to resign entirely from public life. … The question is, does Mr. Zelaya acknowledge that no one, even the president, is above the law?”

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The United States, Organization of American States and United Nations all have condemned the coup and sought to isolate Honduras unless it negotiates a solution to the standoff.

Mr. Zelaya, a populist close to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, has made several failed attempts to return.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias also has sought to mediate an end to the dispute, so far unsuccessfully.

Mr. Corrales, who was appointed by Mr. Micheletti, has shuttled between Honduras and the United States for the last few weeks. He told The Times that under the new proposal:

• Both Mr. Micheletti and Mr. Zelaya would resign.

• The next in line under the constitution would become interim president.

• New elections would be scheduled and monitored by independent foreign observers.

• Mr. Zelaya may return as a private citizen.

• Mr. Micheletti will support a decision by the Honduran congress to grant “political amnesty [not involving common crimes] to all parties relating to events of June 28.”

Mr. Corrales expressed optimism that Mr. Zelaya would accept the proposal but conceded, “We don’t know if Zelaya will agree to this at this point.”

One complication involves allegations that Mr. Zelaya took several million dollars from Honduras’s Central Bank before leaving the country. The Micheletti proposal would leave Mr. Zelaya vulnerable to prosecution on those charges, Mr. Corrales said.

Mr. Micheletti has said that the coup stopped Mr. Chavez from expanding influence in the region. However, Honduras has suffered a loss of economic aid and business that has seriously hurt its economy.

A U.S. State Department official told the Reuters news agency on Thursday that department staff have recommended that the ouster of Mr. Zelaya formally be declared a “military coup,” which could deprive Honduras of millions of dollars in aid beyond about $18 million already suspended.

The official told Reuters that $215 million in grants from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp. — of which $80 million has been disbursed — would be at risk. The U.S. earlier this week restricted visas for Hondurans to visit the United States.

Mr. Micheletti has refused a proposal by Mr. Arias that would have allowed Mr. Zelaya to return to office and scheduled new presidential elections in November.

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