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Clinton: U.S. Not Declaring Events in Honduras a 'Coup'

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By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 29, 2009; 5:15 PM

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today the U.S. government is refraining from formally declaring the ouster of Honduras's president a "coup," which would trigger a cutoff of millions of dollars in aid to the Central American country.

Her statement appeared to reflect the U.S. government's caution amid fast-moving events in Honduras, where President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya was detained and expelled by the military yesterday. But the move could put Washington at odds with the rest of the hemisphere, which has roundly condemned the Honduran military's actions.

"We are withholding any formal legal determination," Clinton told reporters at a State Department briefing. She acknowledged, however, that it certainly looked like a coup when soldiers snatched a pajama-clad Zelaya and whisked him off to Costa Rica.

Later in the day, President Obama said the U.S. government believed the takeover was "not legal" and that Zelaya remained the country's leader.

White House officials made it clear they would like to see Zelaya restored as president of the country, but left vague any specific efforts the country's diplomats are making toward that goal.

"We're seeking to restore that democratic norm in Honduras, and haven't changed the recognition of who we believe is the president of that country," press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters this afternoon.

Gibbs called the military coup a "severe disruption in any sort of democratic norm" and said U.S. policy is aimed at returning to that norm.

"Our goal now is on restoring democratic order in Honduras, again, working with partners at the OAS and in the international community," Gibbs said. But he added, "I don't want to get ahead of the 'what if' as we're focused on the -- restoring that democratic order."

Asked earlier in the day whether that included returning Zelaya to the presidency, Clinton said: "We haven't laid out any demands that we're insisting on, because we're working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives."

Clinton's remarks reflected the complex situation in Honduras, where the congress overwhelmingly voted to depose Zelaya after he had been forcibly removed. The congress then named a new president, Roberto Micheletti, from the same party.

Zelaya, a close ally of Venezuela's anti-American President Hugo Chavez, had clashed with congress, the Supreme Court and the military in recent weeks, particularly over a referendum that might have permitted him to run for another four-year term.

The Honduran congress and Supreme Court said the referendum was illegal.


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