- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica | Hopes for a quick resolution to the post-coup leadership crisis in Honduras have dimmed, with the two rivals fighting over the presidency refusing to meet. They emerged from talks in Costa Rica showing no signs of budging from hard-line positions.

“We have no illusions. This may take longer than we imagined,” said Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who hosted separate, closed-door meetings Thursday with ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya and the man who replaced him after the June 28 coup, Roberto Micheletti.

Mr. Arias, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for helping Central Americans resolve their civil wars, had hoped to bring the rivals together for their first direct meeting since the coup, but that was not to be.

“Each one put as a condition that the other not be there, that it wasn’t the moment to meet,” said Costa Rican Information Minister Mayi Antillon.

The coup crisis has become one of the biggest tests so far for the Obama administration in Latin America. Mr. Arias was invited to mediate by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, said the talks were “dead before they started,” adding that the White house had made a “grave error” in calling for negotiations, according to a Reuters news agency report.

Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, expressed concern that if the Honduran crisis is not resolved, it could leave the door open for other coups in Latin America.

Thousands of Zelaya supporters rallied in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa on Friday and blocked the road leading north from the capital to Honduras’ second city of San Pedro Sula, Agence France-Presse reported.

Mr. Zelaya was the first to arrive for the talks at Mr. Arias’ home in Costa Rica’s capital. Afterward, the leftist rancher who had developed an alliance with Mr. Chavez called for “the re-establishment of the state of law, democracy and the return of the president elected by the Honduran people.”

Mr. Micheletti met with Mr. Arias for almost three hours later Thursday. On emerging, he only said that he was “satisfied” and was returning to Honduras, where he later told reporters that Mr. Zelaya’s supporters had demanded the ousted leader’s reinstatement as president.

“We are in agreement with his return here - but to be sent directly to the courts,” Mr. Micheletti said, referring to the 18 charges against Mr. Zelaya in Honduras, including treason and usurping public functions.

Mr. Micheletti and other members of the interim government say the coup was legal because the Supreme Court ruled Mr. Zelaya was violating the constitution by pushing for a referendum on retooling the charter.

Mr. Zelaya’s supporters say Honduras’ military and oligarchy united to illegally topple a democratically elected leader.

Mr. Arias said any resolution to the dispute must include Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement as president.

“My recommendation is that we advance where it is easy and leave the most difficult point for the end,” he said.

The United Nations also has demanded Mr. Zelaya be returned to power, imposing or threatening sanctions and aid cuts.

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