A team of senior U.S. diplomats has extended a stay in Honduras aimed at helping end the political crisis spawned by the ouster of elected President Manuel Zelaya in June. A resolution is seen as essential for the success of elections to be held there at the end of next month.
The team headed by the top Latin America experts at the State Department and White House National Security Council had originally intended to leave Tegucigalpa Thursday.
But they say they now intend to stay on to try to help prod the parties to complete a deal that will restore political peace to Honduras.
The Central American state has been in turmoil since June 28 when troops detained leftist President Manuel Zelaya and deported him to Costa Rica.
Backers of the move say the interim president Roberto Michelleti, installed by the country's congress, is now the lawful head of state.
But Mr. Zelaya and his supporters, backed by the Organization of American States, say the ouster amounted to a coup d'etat and demand his return to office.
The two sides have been trying to reach a negotiated settlement of the crisis but talks are stalled over the future status of Mr. Zelaya, who has been sheltered at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since slipping back into the country in September.
At a news briefing with Washington-based reporters from the Honduran capital, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said the parties have asked him and his colleagues including White House Latin America policy chief Dan Restrepo to stay on to try to assist the process.
Shannon said without a deal to end the crisis, it will be difficult for the rest of the hemisphere to support elections November 29 for a new Honduran president to take office in January. He said he believes a solution may be close at hand but that time is short. "When we say time is running out, of course today is October 29th and there's only 30 days until the elections on November 29th. And from our point of view, this really isn't a complicated question of negotiation as much as it is a question of expressing political will. And that's why we came, to underscore our interest in ensuring that the political will is there to do a deal," he said.
The U.S. team has met separately with the rival Zelaya and Micheletti camps and also with the Honduran presidential candidates - all of whom, Shannon said, agree that a political agreement is absolutely essential for the election to be peaceful and productive.
Pressed by reporters if the United States would accept an agreement that did not include Mr. Zelaya's return to office, Shannon said the issue was for the Honduran negotiators to decide, while noting that there could be no deal that did not have the ousted leader's approval. "I would say that the question is restitution has been a central question, not just for the United States but for the entire international community. And OAS resolutions and UN resolutions have clearly indicated that President Zelaya should be returned to office. But we recognize that we are operating under an environment in which, at the end of the day, Hondurans have to make that decision," he said.
The Obama administration has supported settlement efforts by the OAS and its Honduras mediator - Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to step-up the U.S. role and send the Shannon team to Honduras after Mr. Zelaya said last week the process had broken down.