- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton terminated about $30 million in U.S. assistance to Honduras Thursday over the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya and said the United States would not recognize the results of elections scheduled for November.

The State Department announced Mrs. Clinton’s long-expected decision as she met with Mr. Zelaya in Washington. She had temporarily suspended aid shortly after the June 28 coup, but Thursday’s move makes the cut permanent.

Mrs. Clinton, however, stopped short of labeling the June events a military coup, which would have made it difficult to resume the terminated aid at some point in the future.

“The secretary of state has made the decision consistent with U.S. legislation, recognizing the need for strong measures in light of the continued resistance to the adoption of the San Jose Accord by the de facto regime and continuing failure to restore democratic, constitutional rule to Honduras,” said department spokesman Ian C. Kelly.

The San Jose Accord is a deal brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias providing for Mr. Zelaya’s return to power. However, Roberto Micheletti, the de facto Honduran president, has refused to accept it.

Thursday’s move affects aid provided to the Honduran government - it does not impact humanitarian assistance given through nongovernmental groups. The fate of an additional $200 million in U.S. aid over several years allocated under the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) will be discussed at an MCC board meeting next week, officials said.

“Restoration of the terminated assistance will be predicated upon a return to democratic, constitutional governance in Honduras,” Mr. Kelly said, calling for a “free, fair and transparent” vote.

“At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections,” he said. “A positive conclusion of the Arias process would provide a sound basis for legitimate elections to proceed. We strongly urge all parties to the San Jose talks to move expeditiously to agreement.”

The State Department is also in the process of revoking the U.S. visas of “individual members and supporters of the de facto regime,” Mr. Kelly said. The U.S. Embassy in Honduras has suspended most visa operations.

Mr. Zelaya was taken out of his bed in his pajamas by soldiers and forcefully flown out of Honduras. Mr. Micheletti’s caretaker government says Mr. Zelaya was legally removed because he defied an order by the nation’s Supreme Court.

“The Department of State recognizes the complicated nature of the actions which led to June 28 coup d’etat in which Honduras’ democratically elected leader, President Zelaya, was removed from office,” Mr. Kelly said. “These events involve complex factual and legal questions and the participation of both the legislative and judicial branches of government as well as the military.”

Mrs. Clinton had come under pressure to cut aid, including from key Democratic members of Congress.

“We should wield our influence by withdrawing all but the most necessary assistance, an action that would be in keeping with those of 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere that want to see democracy restored to Honduras,” California Rep. Howard L. Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times Thursday.

However, the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, criticized Mrs. Clinton’s decision, saying it “will significantly undermine U.S. national security interests and foreign policy priorities in Honduras and the region as a whole.”

Rafael Pineda Ponce, Mr. Micheletti’s chief of staff, said Thursday that Mrs. Clinton’s decision to cut aid “is not very friendly.”

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