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U.S. to stop issuing most visas in Honduras

/ Source: The Associated Press

The United States will stop issuing most visas on Wednesday at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras because of the current government is standing by its refusal to sign an accord that would bring back overthrown President Manuel Zelaya.

A statement by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States considers the San Jose Accord, sponsored by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the best solution to the impasse begun with Zelaya's overthrow and expulsion on June 28.

Eight foreign ministers from Organization of American States members are in Tegucigalpa with OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza to press the government to accept Arias' plan. The OAS announced late Tuesday that its permanent council would meet in its Washington headquarters on Wednesday to hear Insulza's report on the mission.

Kelly said the United States believes the San Jose Accord "would restore the democratic and constitutional order and resolve the political crisis in Honduras."

The decision to suspend the issuance of all nonemergency and nonimmigrant visa services in the embassy, effective Wednesday, is part of a review of U.S. visa policies in Honduras, Kelly said.

He said the review was ordered in support of the OAS mission "and as a consequence of the de facto regime's reluctance to sign the San Jose Accord." The embassy handles about 45,000 applications a year.

Later, a State Department official, speaking to reporters on background, said the only sticking point for President Roberto Micheletti's de facto government was Arias' stipulation that Zelaya would return as president until elections scheduled for November. The accord also would bar Zelaya from changing the Honduran constitution. His effort to do that precipitated the coup.

Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, has said the exiled president has accepted all the plan's 12 points, including the constitution provision.

The State Department official indicated the U.S. reaction to the current impasse might toughen against Micheletti's government if the department's lawyers determine that the June putsch constituted a military coup. U.S. law would specify stronger actions in that case, but the official said they had not made the determination yet.

The official also suggested that the United States would have no problem accepting agreed changes to the Arias plan. The official said the United States' view of negotiations is that they are negotiations. If Zelaya and the Micheletti government agreed to changes in the proposal, the official said, they could take it to Arias for his approval.

Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate known for peacemaking in Latin America, agreed to mediate the dispute in early July after both Zelaya and Michelletti agreed.