A Nobel Peace Prize-winner is taking on the formidable challenge of trying to forge a diplomatic solution to the leadership crisis in Honduras.
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and interim Honduran leader Roberto Micheletti have agreed to accept Costa Rican President Oscar Arias as a mediator.
The appointment of Arias was backed by the United States and announced Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after she met privately with Zelaya at the State Department. Zelaya was ousted last month in a coup.
Arias will conduct the mediation in Costa Rica, where Zelaya intends to travel from Washington, and Clinton said she expected the process to begin soon.
"It is our hope that through this dialogue mechanism overseen by President Arias that there can be a restoration of democratic, constitutional order, a peaceful resolution of this matter that will enable the Honduran people to see the restoration of democracy and a more peaceful future going forward," Clinton said Tuesday.
Zelaya said he was pleased with Arias' appointment.
'Open to dialogue'
In Honduras, Micheletti, who had vowed not to negotiate until "things return to normal," appeared to open some space for a settlement to the crisis that began June 28 when Zelaya was detained by the military and forced into exile.
Arias "is a man with a lot of credibility in the world," Micheletti told HRN radio. "We are open to dialogue. We want to be heard."
While Micheletti said he would send a delegation soon to Costa Rica, he also said the meeting "doesn't mean that Zelaya will be allowed to return." He later told a news conference that the dialogue with Arias should "start from the understanding that Zelaya's return is not open to negotiation."
Still, Micheletti's tone was less belligerent than in recent days, when officials threatened to arrest Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts, including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Honduran lawmakers since he took office in 2006.
In another hint of possible compromise, a Honduran Supreme Court official said Tuesday that political amnesty for Zelaya is possible.
Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for helping broker an end to Central America's civil wars.
Different scenarios played out
Clinton called on all parties to refrain from further violence in an effort to resolve the political crisis and said she was "heartened" that Zelaya had agreed to Arias' mediation and would not again try to force his way back to Honduras, as he did over the weekend.
Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who moved to the left after his election and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, made an unsuccessful attempt to return home Sunday in a move that sparked clashes between his supporters and security forces at the Tegucigalpa airport and left at least one person dead.
Clinton would not discuss specifics of the mediation process, which she said would begin soon, but a senior U.S. official said one option being considered would be to forge a compromise under which Zelaya would be allowed to return and serve out his remaining six months in office with limited powers.
Zelaya, in return, would pledge to drop his aspirations for a constitutional change that might allow him to run for another term, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomatic exchanges.
Obama's lukewarm support
The Obama administration had offered only lukewarm support for Zelaya — aimed more at bolstering his legal status as Honduras' duly elected president than supporting him personally.
But earlier Tuesday in Moscow, President Barack Obama said the United States was supporting the left-leaning politician who often criticized Washington on principle.
"America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country," Obama said. "Even as we meet here today, America supports now the restoration of the democratically elected president of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies."
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