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Diplomacy in Action

Briefing on the Situation in Honduras

Special Briefing
Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Via DVC from Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
October 29, 2009


MODERATOR: Assistant Secretary Shannon, thanks very much for joining us today and briefing our Washington-based press corps. We understand you’ll start off with a brief statement and then give it back to us for the first question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be talking to you all from Tegucigalpa. As I stated previously, our delegation here – Ambassador Craig Kelly, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Dan Restrepo, the Special Assistant to the President for Western Hemisphere Affairs – were sent – we were sent to Tegucigalpa by Secretary Clinton and President Obama to underscore U.S. interest and support for the national dialogue which is underway now and to underscore the necessity of an agreement within that national dialogue in order to win broad support in the international community for the elections that Honduras will face on November 29th.

From our point of view, an agreement within the national dialogue opens a large space for members of the international community to assist Honduras in this election process, to observe the elections, and to have a process that is peaceful and which produces leadership that is widely recognized throughout the hemisphere as legitimate. This will be important as a way of creating a pathway for Honduras to reintegrate itself into the inter-American community, to not – and not just the OAS, but also the Inter-American Development Bank and its other institutions, and to access development funding through the international financial institutions.

At the end of the day, we respect Honduras’s sovereignty, we respect its democracy and its constitutional institutions. And at the end of the day, a solution to this crisis, which is Honduran in origin, will be Honduran also. But we believe the solution will be more enduring and more peaceful if it is accompanied by the larger inter-American community and other members of the international community that are interested. Secretary Clinton and President Obama instructed us to come down and try to ensure that this national dialogue continues, that it continues on a sound basis, and to reassure the Honduran people and Honduras’s political leaders that the United States is prepared to work with members of the international community to provide the guarantees and incentives necessary to ensure that any agreement reached in the national dialogue is implemented in a transparent and effective fashion.

The negotiators are meeting now. They’ve done a lot of work, a lot of important work, and I think the Honduran people can be very proud of what these negotiators have accomplished. But they’re dealing with a tough issue, and that’s the larger issue of what the San Jose Accords called restitution. And this is an issue that both sides feel deeply about, but both sides have been working to structure or fashion a solution that meets their different needs and interests. From our point of view, the deal’s on the table. This is not really a question of drafting or of shaping a paragraph. It’s really a question of political will. And that’s why it was so important, I think, for us to come to Honduras at this moment to make clear to all Hondurans that we believe the political will that is displayed and expressed by Honduras’s leaders should respect the democratic vocation of the Honduran people and the democratic aspirations of the Honduran people, and the desire of Honduras to return to a larger democratic community in the Americas.

So let me stop there and take your questions.

MODERATOR: Go ahead. Please give your name.

QUESTION: Sergio Davila from Brazilian Folha de Sao Paulo. The Brazilian Government and a large group of countries in the region said again this week that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras is President Zelaya is not back to the presidency. Will the U.S. do the same?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: What we’re focused on right now is the national dialogue and winning agreement in the national dialogue. Because at the end of the day, our point of view is the international community cannot argue with what Hondurans determine and decide themselves. In other words, if there’s an agreement in the national dialogue, we think that is sufficient to open a space for international support for Honduras’s elections. And we have to respect the ability of Hondurans to come to terms within that dialogue.

QUESTION: Debbie Charles with Reuters. You said that – in Spanish, you were saying that time is running out. Do you feel that your presence there is actually going to result in something? I mean, you’re staying longer. Are you trying to leave with something already finished, or what? And is the United States doing enough –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We’d like that, obviously. When we say time is running out, of course, today is October 29th. There’s only 30 days until the elections on November 29th. And from our point of view, as I mentioned earlier, this really isn’t a complicated question of negotiation as much as it is a question of expressing political will. And that’s why we came, to underscore our interest in ensuring that the political will is there to do a deal. So we’ve decided to stay longer because we’ve asked – we’ve been asked to stay by different groups participating in this negotiation. And it’s our hope that an agreement will emerge soon.

QUESTION: Before you leave? Do you hope that happens before you leave?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We would like that very much.

QUESTION: Thanks. I’m Julio Marenco with La Prensa Grafica. The representative from President Micheletti, Vilma Morales, suggested yesterday that they are willing to reinstate Mr. Zelaya to the presidency after the elections. Would you accept something like that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: In this process, the question really isn’t what we would accept. The question is what the Hondurans can negotiate among themselves and what Hondurans are prepared to accept. Again, that’s what’s been so important about how the OAS and the international community has fashioned its approach to Honduras. Obviously, we started with the important principles that are based in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the charter of the OAS, which is the respect for democracy and democratic institutions and constitutionality.

But at the same time, as we expressed our principles, the OAS and the United States looked for a way to address those principles in a pragmatic fashion that recognized Honduras’s reality. And that required us to construct a dialogue process that had Hondurans talking to each other. In other words, this wasn’t about the OAS or the international community trying to impose a solution. We’ve seen that fail elsewhere. We know that solutions to be enduring and peaceful have to be rooted in, in this instance, in Honduran soil. And so in that regard, our purpose has always been to respect our principles, but to do so in a context in which Hondurans themselves were going to fashion their solutions.

QUESTION: Matt Lee with AP. I’m just wondering if you could give a more direct answer to the first question that was asked by my Brazilian colleague, which was, as you may remember, is the United States willing to accept an agreement that does not include the return of President Zelaya or the restitution of – his restitution to power.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We’re not going to anticipate what the negotiators are going to work on, but I will say that we – and not just the United States, but the rest of the inter-American community – have constructed these negotiations in a way that the solution be Honduran. And therefore, from our point of view, a deal is a deal. What the Hondurans can determine to decide among themselves, we’ll accept.

QUESTION: Well, that seems to be quite a climb down from your initial position immediately after the coup.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I would disagree with that. As I just noted, in the aftermath of the coup --

QUESTION: I’m sorry. What was your position immediately after the coup? I thought it was that you wanted Zelaya back and in power. And now you’re saying that something short of that is acceptable.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: No, I didn’t say that. What I said – and I’ll say it again – is that we constructed a process with our partners in the OAS and elsewhere in the international community to express our commitment to democratic principles and processes, as encapsulated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. But we also created a process that would have Hondurans speaking to each other, and that ultimately this process had to be resolved by Hondurans. But as we did so, what we were doing was respecting what we believe – and as I mentioned earlier – is the democratic vocation of Hondurans and Honduras, and a longstanding commitment to democracy and constitutionality, which has been consolidating itself over time.

And the real tragedy that Honduras has faced at this point is that the events of June 28th have shaken that process of consolidation in a fundamental way. But it’s important to understand that June 28th was the product not of just a particular series of events, but of a larger and more fundamental problem inside Honduran society, which is going to have to be addressed by the next government. And this is one of the reasons why it’s so important for us to construct a pathway that will allow the international community to work with Hondurans as they move forward, and why an agreement in the national dialogue is so important. Because the next president of Honduras has in front of him a huge challenge, which is not just to win the confidence of the international community and gain access again to the resources and technical expertise that is offered in the international community, but also to being a profounder national dialogue in Honduras that will allow Honduras to strengthen its democracy, strengthen its institutions, and emerge in a much stronger position than when it began.

And as I noted previously, today is the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Mitch hitting Honduran soil. And what I said was that at that time, Hondurans showed enormous courage and determination to rebuild their society and their country, to rebuild their cities, their infrastructure, their towns, and their economy. And they have a lot to be proud of in that regard. But they were able to do so at the speed they did because of the help they got from the international community.

The crisis that was brought on by June 28th was not a natural crisis. It was a man-made crisis. But it’s one that has had also a terrible impact on Honduras. And what we are saying to our partners here in Honduras is that the international community stands ready to help, but that in order for that help to be widespread and to enjoy broad consensus within the inter-American community, we need an agreement within the national dialogue.

QUESTION: Okay. All that is well and good, but I really need to get a – I really need to get an answer to the question. Is it or is it not U.S. policy, the U.S. position, that Zelaya must be restored to power? Is that still the U.S. position or not? Just a yes or no. And Hurricane Mitch and all that and them coming together is great, but –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I appreciate your persistence – (laughter) – but I would say that the question of restitution has been a central question not just for the United States but for the entire international community. And OAS resolutions and UN resolutions have clearly indicated that President Zelaya should be returned to office. But we recognize that we are operating in an environment in which, at the end of the day, Hondurans have to make this decision.

QUESTION: Okay. So that seems to be no, right?

MODERATOR: Next question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: What’s important to note here is that the negotiators represent both sides of this dispute, and they are fashioning an agreement around restitution which we believe can be successful.

MODERATOR: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Shannon, it’s Sonia Schott. The international community, the OAS, seems to be divided regarding Honduras. So how do you expect that the OAS or the international community could reach or could help in a consensus to reach a solution in Honduras when the international community and the OAS is divided? And I would like to hear what is your perception on the OAS role in the Honduran crisis. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I would argue, actually, that the OAS is not divided and has shown throughout this crisis a remarkable consistency. Given the many differences that exist among countries and different appreciations of events in Honduras, in fact, I am not sure I can remember a moment in which the inter-American community has spoken so clearly on this, on such a challenge, or has been able to support over four months the different processes that we have seen evolve – first the San Jose process and now the Guaymuras process. So in that sense, I think the OAS has really played an important role and has really offered an important touchstone for Hondurans as they attempt to deal with this issue.

But obviously, we have in front of us the final part of this negotiation. It’s our hope that it ends successfully. That’s why we’re here. But we’re not diminishing the difficulty of the challenge that still sits in front of the negotiators. And so it’s our hope that with an agreement, the consensus that we have seen in the OAS can be maintained.


QUESTION: Tom, it’s Elise Labott. I understand what you’re saying about, you know, that the solution has to be Honduras, but in the beginning, just to kind of follow up on Matt’s point in a different way, in the beginning, not only the United States but the international community was so insistent that Zelaya return because you didn’t want to set a precedent for other – you know, for a whole ‘nother round of military coups or any type of coups in the region. And so what do you say to critics that would charge this does set a precedent that all an opposition needs to do is show some fortitude and the international community will come along to your point of view; and even if you can get some negotiations together, that this will set a precedent for other movements that feel that if they have the fortitude, they can change the government in a non-constitutional way?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I think at this point, the message is still clear. Again, we still have some steps to go in this negotiation process. But it’s important to remember that President Zelaya is represented in this negotiation process, and anything that is agreed to in that process is going to be agreed to by President Zelaya. And so in that sense --

QUESTION: Well, does he really have a choice, though? I mean, isn’t this kind of window dressing? Isn’t this kind of window dressing –


QUESTION: -- would have at this point?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: No, this is a real process, this negotiation. It’s not an issue of window dressing. And we met with President Zelaya yesterday, and his communication with his negotiators is fluid and his negotiators represent his interests. And this is – when I talk about the importance of an agreement within the national dialogue, it’s important to understand that these agreements can’t be imposed. In other words, it’s not one side imposing an agreement on another side. Either side of this negotiation can get up and walk whenever they want to. Obviously, we’re very intent on seeing a solution that meets Honduras’s broad interests. But I think – I mean, I understand the question. I understand the point you’re trying to make, and it’s an important one. But I think it’s premature, because I think we’re still at a moment in which we can send a very strong message to the international community that coups won’t be tolerated and that countries such as Honduras have the capability within their democracy to resolve this kind of problem.

MODERATOR: Last question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Perfil Argentina. Hello, Tom Shannon. I want to ask you a question. Do you have meet with the candidates that are participating in these elections for being president, and there I want to know if they agree to receive the government from the coup government or they really want to receive the government from an elected democratic president? What’s their perception on this talking about the future, really?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah. We did meet with the presidential candidates last night, and I had met with several of them during my earlier visit as part of an OAS delegation. And we have regular communication with all of them, and they represent a broad political spectrum. But what was striking about last night’s meeting with the presidential candidates is that, in spite of that spectrum, they were all agreed that an agreement within the national dialogue was absolutely essential to the ability of the elections on November 29th to go forward in a peaceful and productive fashion. And I think that answers your question. I think it indicates that all of the candidates recognize that once elected, whoever that is, that person will face an enormous challenge, and that challenge will be more successfully faced with broad support across Honduran society, broad recognition of legitimacy, and broad support from the international community.

MODERATOR: Great. Assistant Secretary, thank you very much for your time. We’ll have to stop there for the daily briefing.


PRN: 2009/1083

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