Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to meet with deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya this week as the Obama administration weighs responses to his ouster.
The talks planned for Tuesday would be the administration's highest-level contact with Zelaya since he was overthrown in a coup eight days ago, coming two days after his failed attempt to return to Honduras deepened the country's political crisis.
Zelaya met with two senior U.S. diplomats in Washington on Sunday after the Organization of American States suspended Honduras for its role in the coup and before the deposed president tried to return to Honduras by plane. Zelaya got as close as several hundred feet above the Tegucigalpa airport but had to turn away because of obstacles placed on the runway on orders of the interim government.
Clash ends in fatality
Clashes between police and soldiers and Zelaya supporters left at least one fatality at the airport on Sunday and thousands of supporters have been marching to protest his overthrow. About 2,000 demonstrated peacefully Monday near the presidential palace.
Zelaya was in Nicaragua on Monday after a late Sunday news conference in El Salvador in which he urged world leaders to step up efforts to return him to power.
Diplomats with the United Nations, the OAS, the United States and European countries worked behind the scenes Monday to seek common ground with interim President Roberto Micheletti, who heads the government that replaced Zelaya. But Micheletti has vowed not to negotiate until "things return to normal."
One option under consideration is trying to forge a compromise between Zelaya, Micheletti and the Honduran military under which the ousted president would be allowed to return and serve out his remaining six months in office with limited and clearly defined powers, according to a senior U.S. official.
In exchange, Zelaya would pledge to drop aspirations for a possible constitutional change that could allow him to run for another term, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic exchanges.
Obama administration's response
The Obama administration has made few public moves since Zelaya was deposed, deferring to the OAS. The U.S. has had limited military-to-military contacts and frozen programs that directly aid the Honduran government. But it has not yet determined whether Zelaya's ouster should trigger an automatic suspension in all non-humanitarian American assistance to Honduras.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday that the United States "deplores the use of force against demonstrators in Tegucigalpa" and called on "the de facto regime and all actors in Honduras to refrain from all acts of violence and seek a peaceful, constitutional and lasting solution to the serious divisions in that country through dialogue."
"Our goal remains the restoration of the democratic order in Honduras and we renew our call on all political and social actors in Honduras to find a peaceful solution to this crisis," Kelly said. "We're very focused on the need for a dialogue to restore him back (to office) and restore the democratic order."
Another senior administration official expressed some frustration with Zelaya, who rejected advice from the U.S. and others not to press for the constitutional change and not to try to return to Honduras on Sunday while the situation remained volatile.
The new Honduran government that replaced Zelaya has vowed to arrest him for 18 alleged criminal acts, including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Congress since he took office in 2006. Zelaya also refused to comply with a Supreme Court ruling against his planned referendum on whether to hold an assembly to consider changing the constitution.