- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 31, 2009

Honduras’ de facto rulers agreed to a deal with ousted President Manuel Zelaya to end the country’s political stalemate because of fear that upcoming elections would not be recognized by the international community, the Obama administration said Friday.

The two sides agreed late Thursday to form a national unity government that would operate until next month’s vote, and to allow Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term in office, which expires in January.

Even as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hailed the agreement as a “breakthrough,” a senior U.S. official who was directly involved in the negotiations said the accord’s implementation will be complicated and difficult.

The deal “effectively opens a pathway to resolve Honduras’ current political crisis and allow the international community to support the Honduran elections” on Nov. 29, Thomas A. Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said during a conference call with reporters organized by the State Department.

Both Mr. Shannon and Daniel Restrepo, senior director for Latin America at the White House National Security Council, attributed the change of mind by Roberto Micheletti, the de facto Honduran leader, to his realization that the country’s international isolation would deepen if the election were not recognized by other nations.

There was “recognition throughout Honduran society that, for Honduras to move forward in a sustained way, the election had to be accompanied by international support,” Mr. Restrepo said

“This is a big step forward for the Inter-American system and its commitment to democracy as embodied in the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” Mrs. Clinton said during a visit to Pakistan. “I’m very proud that I was part of the process, that the United States was instrumental in the process. But I’m mostly proud of the people of Honduras who have worked very hard to have this matter resolved peacefully.”

Mr. Shannon said Mr. Zelaya’s return to office - which Thursday’s deal leaves to the Honduran Congress to determine “when, if and how” - is the most fragile part of the agreement.

“That is going to be the issue that is most provocative internally and probably where we in the international community are going to have to pay the closest attention,” he said. “It is our view that President Zelaya’s status should be normalized in some fashion, and the de facto regime should end its harassment of the Brazilian Embassy” in Honduras, where Mr. Zelaya has been holed up for weeks.

Mr. Zelaya was taken by soldiers from his bed on June 28 and flown into exile. He had angered the army and many others in Honduras with his closeness to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He was also accused of seeking to extend presidential term limits, which he denies.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, both praised Mr. Shannon’s work on the issue.

“The restoration of democracy is an historic accomplishment for the Honduran people,” Mr. Kerry said. “The accord provides a road map for elections on November 29, but success will depend on rigorous international monitoring of the accord’s implementation.”

Mr. Engel said Mrs. Clinton “has played a fundamental role in encouraging a political solution,” and “it is now imperative that all of Honduras’ political institutions work to support this agreement.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who has been critical of the Obama’s administration’s support for Mr. Zelaya, said that “international recognition of Honduras’ November elections should never have been in doubt.”

“It is my hope that this agreement and all future actions are premised on the Honduran constitution and rule of law, and arrived at free from duress or outside interference,” she said.

She called for “all U.S. assistance to Honduras, cooperation and visas,” which were suspended after the June events, to be “immediately restored.”

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Engel urged Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, to lift his hold on the nominations of Mr. Shannon to be ambassador to Brazil and of Arturo Valenzuela to replace him as assistant secretary. Mr. DeMint shares Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen’s criticism of the administration’s policy.

• Nicholas Kralev can be reached at nkralev@washingtontimes.com.

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