TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Mediator Costa Rica said on Monday it may call Honduras' interim government and ousted President Manuel Zelaya's negotiators within 8 days for fresh talks aimed at defusing the country's political crisis.
The talks began last week and stopped after two days, making scant progress. Zelaya insists on his reinstatement and Roberto Micheletti, installed as interim president by Honduras' Congress after the June 28 coup, is adamant that he cannot return to power under any circumstances.
"Unofficially, we've been told that we'll be invited to Costa Rica on Saturday by President Oscar Arias to continue the talks," Micheletti told reporters.
Micheletti made the statement after swearing in his lead negotiator, Carlos Lopez, as new interim foreign minister. Lopez said he would continue to head the caretaker government's delegation at the talks.
In Costa Rica, a spokesman for Arias confirmed the mediator, who is Costa Rica's president and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, intended to issue a fresh invitation to the two sides.
"The president is thinking of inviting the parties within a period of eight days," the spokesman, Esteban Arrieta, told reporters in San Jose, but he could not give a precise date for the restart of the talks.
No foreign government has recognized Micheletti as president, and the United States and the Organization of American States have called for Zelaya to be restored to office after the coup in the impoverished Central American country.
"The longer this goes on, the better it is for Micheletti. The downside is if the United States decides to squeeze the government financially. But if you were Micheletti, why would you leave?" he told Reuters.
Honduras, which exports bananas, coffee and textiles, has a long history of coups, only returning to democracy in 1980s after 20 years of mainly military rule.
Micheletti on Sunday held out the possibility of an amnesty for Zelaya if he returns home quietly and faces justice.
Outside the public prosecutor's office in Tegucigalpa on Monday, protesters held up banners that read "No amnesty for Mel's government," referring to Zelaya by his nickname.
TEST OF DIPLOMACY
Micheletti reaffirmed that Zelaya would not be allowed to return to power "under any conditions," arguing he had contravened the constitution by seeking to illegally extend his rule through the lifting of presidential term limits.
Zelaya, now traveling the Americas to shore up his support, ran afoul of his political base and ruling elites in the conservative country by allying himself with Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chavez. He took office in 2006 and had been due to leave power next year.
Chavez has called the mediation talks in Costa Rica "dead before they started," and Zelaya has vowed to return to Honduras at any moment.
The Honduras crisis has also drawn in U.S. President Barack Obama, who faces a tricky diplomatic test after vowing a fresh start with Latin America, where Washington has in the past been accused of backing coups and dictatorships that served its interests.
The Obama administration was quick to strongly condemn the Honduras coup as illegal.
Micheletti on Sunday blamed Chavez for events unfolding in Honduras, and for the death of a protester killed in clashes at Tegucigalpa's airport a week ago when Honduran troops blocked an attempt by Zelaya to return in a plane provided by the Venezuelan leader.
However, his reference to a possible amnesty for Zelaya was the interim government's first conciliatory offer to help defuse the worst crisis in Central America since the Cold War.
Micheletti has also said he would be prepared to step down as part of an eventual solution, and that elections scheduled for November could be held earlier, but he emphatically rules out any reinstatement of Zelaya.
"If they work out a deal for Zelaya to come back, it will be just to finish his term. He won't return in triumph. He would be the ultimate lame duck," Ruhl said.