SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Hopes for a quick resolution to the post-coup leadership crisis in Honduras have dimmed, with the two rivals fighting over the presidency refusing to meet. They emerged from talks in Costa Rica showing no signs of budging from hard-line positions.
Negotiating teams from both sides huddled behind closed doors again in the Costa Rican capital Friday, but Organization of American States' head Jose Miguel Insulza said Friday "there is lack of willingness to discuss things."
The chief mediator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, was equally glum earlier, saying, "We have no illusions. This may take longer than we imagined."
Even so, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Arias Friday and "offered all her help so that this mediation would be successful," Arias' foreign minister Bruno Stagno said.
Arias hosted separate meetings on Thursday with ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya and the man who replaced him after the June 28 coup, Roberto Micheletti.
Arias, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for helping Central Americans resolve their civil wars, had hoped to bring the rivals together for their first direct meeting since the coup, but that was not to be.
"Each one put as a condition that the other not be there, that it wasn't the moment to meet," Costa Rican Information Minister Mayi Antillon said.
Both Zelaya and Micheletti left Costa Rica after their meetings with Arias.
Zelaya traveled to the Dominican Republic, where President Leonel Fernandez received him with full military honors. Zelaya told reporters that he asked Fernandez to speak for him at the upcoming summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Egypt, the newspaper Clave Digital reported.
The coup crisis has become one of the biggest tests so far for the Obama administration in Latin America and OAS Secretary-General Insulza expressed concern that if the Honduran crisis is not resolved, it could leave the door open for other coups in Latin America.
"I'm not going to mention countries," Insulza told reporters in Washington on Thursday.
Zelaya was the first to arrive for the talks at Arias' home. Afterward, the leftist rancher who has allied himself with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez called for "the reestablishment of the state of law, democracy and the return of the president elected by the Honduran people."
Micheletti then met with Arias for almost three hours. On emerging, he only said that he was "satisfied."
Back in Honduras, he said he was ready to see Zelaya come back — "but to be sent directly to the courts," referring to the 18 charges against Zelaya in Honduras, including treason and usurping public functions.
Micheletti and other members of the interim government say the coup was legal because the Supreme Court ruled Zelaya was violating the constitution by pushing for a referendum on retooling the charter.
Zelaya's supporters say Honduras' military and oligarchy united to illegally topple a democratically elected leader.
Arias said any resolution to the dispute must include Zelaya's reinstatement as president.
"My recommendation is that we advance where it is easy and leave the most difficult point for the end," he said.
The United Nations also has demanded Zelaya be returned to power, imposing or threatening sanctions and aid cuts. Venezuela said it is canceling shipments of subsidized oil, and the U.S. suspended more than $18 million in military assistance and development aid programs. No other country has recognized the interim administration.
The coup has sparked worldwide condemnation and revived memories of Central America's politically unstable past.
But support for Zelaya is much less clear-cut inside Honduras, where thousands of Zelaya's supporters and detractors continued marching in the streets of the impoverished country Thursday.
Antillon said commissions named by Zelaya and Micheletti were continuing to meet.
"At this time, they are exchanging ideas. ... It is a basic process but both delegations are sitting at the same table," she said.
Arias said that negotiations aimed at resolving the crisis could last for several days more.
Even getting both sides to appear in the same city was an achievement for the Costa Rican president — something that hasn't happened since the leftist Zelaya surrendered under gunfire and was flown out of his country by masked soldiers.
While Venezuela's Chavez has painted the dispute as an epic battle between Zelaya and Honduras' "oligarchies," President Barack Obama has framed the issue in non-ideological terms, encouraging leaders from the left and right to come together to support the institutions of democracy.
Obama has insisted that Zelaya be restored to power, but "not because we agree with him," he told an audience in Russia. "We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not."