Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that the United States wants the restoration of full democratic and constitutional order in Honduras, where elected President Manuel Zelaya was arrested by the military and forced into exile in Costa Rica. Clinton said the underlying issues that led to Sunday's ouster should be addressed after what she termed "a coup" is reversed.
Clinton says the controversy generated by Mr. Zelaya's effort to continue in office despite term limits needs to be addressed by Hondurans in a peaceful way, but only after the reversal of Sunday's events and the restoration of democratic rule in the Central American country.
The Obama administration had made clear since the ouster of the Honduran leader early Sunday its deep concern about the situation. But Clinton's remarks, in an appearance at the State Department's daily press briefing, were the first direct comments by a top U.S. official.
She called the "unfortunate" events in Honduras a test of the inter-American system's ability to support and defend democratic and constitutional order in the Western Hemisphere.
"As we move forward, all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to yesterday's events in a way that enhances democracy and the rule of law in Honduras," said Hillary Clinton. "To that end, we will continue working with the OAS [Organization of American States] and other partners to construct a process of dialogue and engagement that will promote the restoration of democratic order, address the serious problems of political polarization in Honduras, restore confidence in their institutions of government and ensure that Honduras moves successfully towards its scheduled presidential election in November of this year."
The United States had been working behind the scenes with Honduran parties to try to defuse the political crisis there generated by President Zelaya's effort to hold a referendum on constitutional changes that were widely seen as bid by the left-leaning president to stay in office beyond January, when his term ends.
The mediation effort came to an abrupt end with Sunday's military move against Mr. Zelaya, with whom Clinton had met earlier this month at an Organization of American States meeting in Honduras.
The Secretary of State said she expects the OAS, in an emergency meeting in Washington on Tuesday, to condemn Mr. Zelaya's detention and expulsion, and to send a delegation to Honduras to work with the parties to try to restore constitutional order.
Clinton did not specifically say the return of the ousted president to office is a fundamental U.S. aim, but her spokesman insisted that is an administration objective.
Under questioning, Clinton said the Obama administration is not, at least for the time being, cutting off U.S. non-humanitarian aid to Honduras as is mandated by Congress in cases where elected governments are ousted by a military coup.
She said the situation "has evolved into a coup," but she suggested that U.S. aid would continue if the overthrow can be quickly reversed.
"Much of our assistance is conditioned on the integrity of the democratic system," she said. "But if we were able to get to a status quo that returned to the rule of law and constitutional order within a relatively short period of time, I think that would be a good outcome. So we're looking at all of this; we're considering the implications of all of it. But our priority is to try to work with our partners in restoring the constitutional order in Honduras."
Officials here had no immediate figures on how much U.S. aid might be at risk because of the overthrow. But the aid program is anchored by a five-year $215-million grant by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation to boost the country's agriculture sector.