Senator asks Clinton to explain Honduran policy

WASHINGTON Thu Jul 30, 2009 7:19pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key U.S. senator asked the Obama administration on Thursday to explain in detail its policy on the Honduran political crisis, warning that otherwise Senate confirmation may be delayed for a U.S. diplomatic nominee for Latin America.

"The complexity of events that led up to the Honduran crisis has given rise to questions regarding U.S. policy," Senator Richard Lugar, one of the Senate's most respected voices on foreign policy, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The United States has refused to recognize the Honduran government led by Roberto Micheletti, which took over the Central American nation after President Manuel Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military on June 28.

Lugar told Clinton he shared her support for mediation by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in the month-old dispute over whether Zelaya should be allowed to return to his post.

But he also appealed to the State Department to provide a detailed clarification of U.S. policy to "interested Members" -- an apparent reference to several of his fellow Republicans, who charge Washington is trying to reinstate a left-wing government in Honduras.

Because of U.S. support for Zelaya, conservative Republican Senator Jim DeMint has threatened to delay a Senate vote on the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, the senior diplomat in charge of Latin America at the State Department.

"I request that the Department provide interested Members a detailed clarification of the steps that it has taken, and intends to take, in response to the events that transpired in the run-up to and period after the forced removal of President Manuel Zelaya from Honduras," Lugar wrote to Clinton.

The letter was provided to Reuters by Lugar's office.

"Your explanation of U.S. policy toward Honduras and your outreach to the Senate can improve the prospects of confirming Mr. Valenzuela before the Congress recesses in August," Lugar wrote. The Senate is scheduled to go on recess August 8.

Lugar also encouraged Clinton to work with the Senate to confirm two other nominees, Thomas Shannon as ambassador to Brazil, and Carlos Pascual as ambassador to Mexico.

"Recent events in Honduras only heighten the urgency of assembling President Obama's diplomatic team for the region," he said.

Washington has cut $16.5 million in aid to Honduras and this week revoked diplomatic visas for four members of Micheletti's administration to pressure it to reverse the coup.

Micheletti on Wednesday night released a statement calling for new efforts to resolve the country's political crisis.

But Zelaya's representative in Washington, Eduardo Enrique Reina, told Reuters he thought Micheletti was simply trying to gain time with the statement, noting that Micheletti's aides in Honduras are still vowing not to let Zelaya return.

"We will ask the U.S. government to step up the pressure on Micheletti," Zelaya's ambassador told Reuters.

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