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State Department quietly communicating with new Honduran regime

As the two battling parties in the Honduran presidential dispute struggle to reach a settlement, the State Department has been communicating behind the scenes with both camps, a senior State Department official told The Cable. Officially, the State Department has pledged not to interact directly with the leader of the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa, ...

As the two battling parties in the Honduran presidential dispute struggle to reach a settlement, the State Department has been communicating behind the scenes with both camps, a senior State Department official told The Cable.

Officially, the State Department has pledged not to interact directly with the leader of the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa, led by Roberto Micheletti, throwing the full support of the U.S. government behind ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the diplomatic efforts by the Organization of American States (OAS) and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

But the State Department is also in contact with the Micheletti camp through indirect channels, including businessmen in Honduras and friends of the de facto regime in the United States, the official explained. The goal was both to get information and to push both sides to come to a resolution of the conflict, which has been raging since Micheletti’s June 28 takeover.

"Our message to both sides is, ‘Listen, this is a golden opportunity and let’s not lose it,’" the senior official said.

Thomas Shannon, the outgoing assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also was part of a recent OAS delegation to Honduras that did meet with Micheletti, although there were no direct one-on-one talks between Shannon and the regime.

The State Department’s latest reading of the situation in Honduras is that the two sides are extremely close to an agreement, but stuck on the issue of the role Zelaya would play if a deal is signed.

"It’s a really fluid situation that seems to be changing minute by minute," said the official. Zelaya is still hiding out in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Almost all of the provisions of the San Jose Accord are said to be part of the new agreement, but Article 6, which states that all government posts should return to their status before the coup began, is a sticking point with the Micheletti camp, which is said to adamantly oppose Zelaya retaking his presidential position. (The Micheletti regime issued a statement to that effect.)

Meanwhile, Shannon met today with South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who is holding up Shannon’s nomination to become ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela’s nomination to take over Shannon’s job.

DeMint has been hugely critical of the administration’s Honduras policy and took a delegation there to meet with Micheletti against the State Department’s wishes. There is speculation that if the situation in Tegucigalpa gets resolved, DeMint would release his holds, but neither of those things has happened just yet.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, is also heavily interested in a resolution of the Honduran crisis.

"Consistent with the progress made by negotiators, the de facto government of Honduras should rescind the decree limiting fundamental civil and political rights. I also call on the supporters of President Zelaya to refrain from provocation and acts of violence," Lugar said in a statement.

As the two battling parties in the Honduran presidential dispute struggle to reach a settlement, the State Department has been communicating behind the scenes with both camps, a senior State Department official told The Cable.

Officially, the State Department has pledged not to interact directly with the leader of the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa, led by Roberto Micheletti, throwing the full support of the U.S. government behind ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the diplomatic efforts by the Organization of American States (OAS) and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

But the State Department is also in contact with the Micheletti camp through indirect channels, including businessmen in Honduras and friends of the de facto regime in the United States, the official explained. The goal was both to get information and to push both sides to come to a resolution of the conflict, which has been raging since Micheletti’s June 28 takeover.

"Our message to both sides is, ‘Listen, this is a golden opportunity and let’s not lose it,’" the senior official said.

Thomas Shannon, the outgoing assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also was part of a recent OAS delegation to Honduras that did meet with Micheletti, although there were no direct one-on-one talks between Shannon and the regime.

The State Department’s latest reading of the situation in Honduras is that the two sides are extremely close to an agreement, but stuck on the issue of the role Zelaya would play if a deal is signed.

"It’s a really fluid situation that seems to be changing minute by minute," said the official. Zelaya is still hiding out in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Almost all of the provisions of the San Jose Accord are said to be part of the new agreement, but Article 6, which states that all government posts should return to their status before the coup began, is a sticking point with the Micheletti camp, which is said to adamantly oppose Zelaya retaking his presidential position. (The Micheletti regime issued a statement to that effect.)

Meanwhile, Shannon met today with South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who is holding up Shannon’s nomination to become ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela’s nomination to take over Shannon’s job.

DeMint has been hugely critical of the administration’s Honduras policy and took a delegation there to meet with Micheletti against the State Department’s wishes. There is speculation that if the situation in Tegucigalpa gets resolved, DeMint would release his holds, but neither of those things has happened just yet.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, is also heavily interested in a resolution of the Honduran crisis.

"Consistent with the progress made by negotiators, the de facto government of Honduras should rescind the decree limiting fundamental civil and political rights. I also call on the supporters of President Zelaya to refrain from provocation and acts of violence," Lugar said in a statement.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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