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Clinton's high-wire act on Honduras

US backs Costa Rica's Arias to mediate the crisis, wary of being seen as interfering in the region – as it has in the past.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 8, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to media after meeting privately with ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya at State Department in Washington on Tuesday.

Jose Luis Magana/AP



The Obama administration waded deeper into the political crisis in Honduras Tuesday, anxious to see the hemisphere's latest conflict resolved – but wary of appearing like the hegemonic power of old that imposed its will on smaller neighbors.

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with ousted Honduran President Miguel Zelaya in Washington Tuesday, signaling unequivocal US support for Mr. Zelaya's return to office.

But Mrs. Clinton also announced that Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his role in brokering an end to Central America's civil wars, will serve as international mediator for resolving the Honduran crisis. Both Zelaya and interim president Roberto Micheletti accept Arias's mediation role, Clinton said.

The naming of Mr. Arias brings a respected and seemingly neutral force into the picture while keeping the US profile low, some regional analysts say. But it also raises questions about what mandate he will have to resolve the 10-day-old standoff.

"It was a great idea to turn to Oscar Arias, but a lot still depends on who asked him, and what authority and discretion he will have to mediate," says Robert Pastor, a Latin America expert at American University in Washington who was national security adviser on Latin America and the Caribbean to President Carter.

Clinton's meeting with Zelaya took place hours after President Obama, in a speech in Moscow, cited the Honduran case as an example of American support for popularly elected leaders – even when those leaders have views the US opposes.

Zelaya was ousted on June 28 when a constitutional crisis pitting the president against the other branches of government boiled over, prompting the Honduran military to step in. The military put Zelaya on a plane to Costa Rica, and the Honduran Congress elected an interim president, Roberto Micheletti.