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After speaking too soon, perhaps, the U.S. State Department appeared at a loss for words today as the much touted Honduran accord — which high ranking U.S. officials helped broker — broke apart once again.
After a team of senior State Department and White House officials dived into the fray last week in Tegucigalpa, a truce was signed by both leaders who until then had been intransigent about their claim to the presidency of Honduras. This came four months after the ouster of Manuel Zelaya, who after sneaking back from exile remains holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
After the signing of the pact — now being called the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord — it's implementation was hanging in limbo pending approval from the Honduran Congress, which itself awaited a thumbs up from the Supreme Court before it would proceed.
But it all seemed to be going so well.
One of the first points of the pact, to create a Verification Commission, already bore fruit. The commission comprises esteemed leadership under former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Optimism that seemed impossible not long ago began to fill the air. So what happened?
Zelaya accused interim President Roberto Micheletti, essentially, of moving to form a unity government without unifying with Zelaya or including members from the ousted leader's camp. Zelaya called off the accord. "The negotiations have come to an end," Zelaya said told The Associated Press. "We have declared that there is no possibility of recognizing that accord."
However, the Micheletti administration has just issued a statement refuting that claim. It reads: "Mr. Manuel Zelaya refused to provide the list of candidates who could form part of the unity government. Surprisingly, today, Mr. Zelaya attributes this lack of participation in the Government of Unity and Reconciliation as an excuse to declare the failure of the accord and abandon his commitment when it was he who refused to cooperate with creating this new government."
After its short-lived diplomatic victory, there was only one thing the U.S. could express: disappointment.
During Friday's briefing, U.S. State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said, "I think we’re disappointed with both sides. I think we’re disappointed that both sides are not following this very clear path which has been laid out in this accord."
But reporters pushed Kelly further on a related point. Yesterday U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) released a statement announcing the Obama administration has assured him it will recognize Honduras' Nov. 29 elections, eschewing an earlier condition that an agreement involving Zelaya's reinstatement was crucial first before the vote could be fair and ultimately legitimate.
“I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections,” said DeMint. “Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated.”
Kelly refused to confirm this during today's briefing, in spite of prodding by journalists. Instead he stuck to the line that the U.S. believes the accord is the way forward and, when its goals are met, Washington will recognize the newly elected president.
What now? The U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens is urging the rival leaders to return to the negotiating table. But after talking that began here in Costa Rica in the weeks following the June 28 coup, and more talking that resumed after Zelaya popped up in Tegucigalpa, what's really left to negotiate? Hopefully Micheletti and Zelaya will find something, and follow through with it, realizing that their nation's future — more important than their own — still hangs in the balance.
The countdown to Nov. 29 continues.