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The Obama administration is sending a team of senior officials to Honduras Wednesday to try to expedite a settlement of the political crisis spawned by the ouster in June of elected President Manuel Zelaya. The deposed leader remains at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.
The Obama administration had preferred to let the Organization of American States and its designated mediator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, take the lead role in Honduran diplomacy.
But it is now stepping up U.S. involvement with settlement talks stalled and a planned presidential election in Honduras looming in little more than a month.
State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said a team headed by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and White House staff director for Latin America Dan Restrepo will urge both sides to show flexibility and redouble efforts to bring the crisis to an end.
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Interim President Roberto Micheletti, who has headed the government since Mr. Zelaya was detained by soldiers and deported in late June, has refused to accept the return to office of the deposed leader as demanded by all other OAS member states.
Micheletti contends Mr. Zelaya's ouster was not a coup, and that the troops who put him on a plane to Costa Rica acted legally after he had unconstitutionally sought to extend his term in office through a plebiscite.
State Department Spokesman Kelly, who said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to both principals in the crisis Friday, said the crisis needs to be resolved quickly in line with OAS settlement guidelines if the Honduran election planned for November is to have any legitimacy.
"I think it's getting quite urgent. What we want is to see an election, which is coming in about exactly a month, to enjoy the kind of international legitimacy that the people of Honduras deserve," he said. "We have said all along that we've made this a priority and wanted to be as helpful as we could to try to bring this to a successful resolution. Talks on Friday seemed to break down and it was at that point that the Secretary decided to get involved directly."
The U.S. team, expected to be in Tegicigalpa through the end of this week, will meet with both Micheletti and Mr. Zelaya, who has been sheltered at the Brazilian embassy in the capital since slipping back into the country five weeks ago.
A senior State Department official said the sides are in agreement on all terms proposed by OAS mediator Arias except for critical language providing for Mr. Zelaya to return to office and complete his term, which ends in January.
The deposed leader has said he would renounce any ambition to hold on to power beyond January despite his previous backing for a referendum that would have allowed him to run again in next month's election.
State Department Spokesman Kelly also expressed sadness Tuesday over the death of Enzo Micheletti, a nephew of the interim president, who had gone missing several days ago and whose body was discovered Sunday in a northern Honduran town.
Kelly, who extended condolences to the family, said he had no information on the motive in the killing of the Micheletti nephew, who was found shot to death along with another man.
Honduran officials have said they are treating the death as a local criminal case and that it does not appear to be related to the political crisis.