Less than two weeks after U.S. diplomats announced a historic agreement to reverse a coup in Honduras, the accord is in danger of collapse and both Honduran officials and U.S. lawmakers are blaming American missteps for some of the failure.
Ousted president Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled by the military in June, said in a telephone interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had assured him as recently as last week that the U.S. government was seeking his return to the presidency. But he said that U.S. pressure had eased in recent days and that he no longer had faith in the agreement.
José Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organization of American States, which is helping implement the accord, said that negotiations between Zelaya and the de facto government had fallen apart and that he would not send a mission to Honduras to observe presidential elections at the end of the month. That added to the possibility that the previously scheduled elections will not be internationally recognized -- and that Honduras's five-month-old crisis will continue.
The Obama administration has invested its credibility in the Oct. 30 accord, which was reached after Clinton dispatched a senior diplomatic team to bring the two sides together. But the agreement started to fray within days, with each side interpreting the vaguely worded document its own way. Key American lawmakers, and Zelaya's followers, were startled by remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr. last week that the U.S. government would recognize the election results irrespective of whether the ousted Honduran president was returned to office promptly.
"The State Department's abrupt change of policy towards Honduras last week -- recognizing the elections scheduled for Nov. 29 even if the coup regime does not meet its commitments under the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord -- caused the collapse of an accord it helped negotiate," said Frederick L. Jones, a spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Zelaya said he was finished with the agreement.
"Everything they do will be tricks," he said, referring to the de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti. He said U.S. guarantees had formed the underpinning for the agreement.
"Their priorities were my restitution. . . . This is a very dangerous change of foreign policy for the United States," he said.
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State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said there had been no change in policy.
"We'll see what happens in the election before we can evaluate its results," he said. He rejected criticism that U.S. officials weren't pressing for the accord to work, noting that a senior diplomat handling Latin America affairs, Craig Kelly, had just spent two days in Honduras.
Another senior U.S. official noted the agreement never specifically said that Zelaya would be reinstated, instead giving the Honduran National Congress the power to vote on it. Zelaya may have decided to back out of the accord after realizing his support in Congress was softer than he initially thought, said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly.
The first snag in the accord occurred when Micheletti asked Zelaya to submit names for a government of national unity. Zelaya balked, saying that he should head the interim government. Micheletti then decided to establish the government himself -- a move criticized by the Organization of American States.
Then the Congress indicated it could take weeks before it voted on Zelaya's reinstatement. That infuriated the ousted president, who has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital since sneaking back into the country in September.
Some observers said the Honduran legislators appeared nervous about moving on the politically charged subject. Micheletti has urged them to hold the vote.
Shannon's comments on the elections coincided with an announcement by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that he would no longer block Shannon's nomination as ambassador to Brazil. DeMint said he made the decision after Shannon told him that the U.S. government would recognize the Nov. 29 Honduran election results whether or not Zelaya was back in the presidency.
DeMint and some other lawmakers have called for a tougher line against Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela's anti-American president, Hugo Chávez.