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U.S. sends top team to Honduras

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Time is running out for a solution to the political crisis in Honduras, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday as senior government officials prepared to travel there to try to revive talks.

The officials, traveling to the Central American country on Wednesday, plan to meet with Manuel Zelaya -- who was ousted as president in June -- and Honduras’ de facto leader Roberto Micheletti in negotiations that are expected to last about two days.

“I think it’s getting quite urgent,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, referring to the need to reach an agreement before presidential elections next month. The U.S. delegation includes the top State Department and White House officials who deal with Latin America.

The Obama administration has said it is disappointed with a deadlock in talks to resolve the crisis sparked by the ouster of Zelaya, a leftist who was sent into exile in an army-backed coup on June 28. Zelaya has been holed up at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since slipping back into the impoverished coffee-producing country last month.

Repeated efforts to reach a deal have stalled over disagreement on whether Zelaya could be reinstated to complete his term, which is due to end in January.

Kelly said it was important for the two sides to end the crisis before the November 29 election. Neither Zelaya nor Micheletti are running, but Zelaya has said Micheletti’s refusal to reinstate him before the election will strip the vote’s legitimacy and further isolate the de facto government.

“We want to see an election, which is coming in about exactly a month, to enjoy the kind of international legitimacy that these people of Honduras deserve for their government,” Kelly said.

After the last round of talks broke down last Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned both Zelaya and Micheletti and urged them to be flexible and to work harder to end the crisis.

She is sending Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, his deputy Craig Kelly and Dan Restrepo, the director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the White House, to push the two sides toward a compromise.

The U.S. delegation plans to meet with representatives from both sides to seek common ground. It was not clear if Zelaya and Micheletti would meet face-to-face.

“They will urge both sides to show flexibility and redouble their efforts to bring the crisis to an end,” Kelly said.

Another State Department spokeswoman, Virginia Staab, said both sides supported a visit by U.S. officials.

“We’re taking that as a positive sign. That they will welcome us, they will both engage with us and we hope to facilitate a continuing dialogue,” Staab said.

Editing by Frances Kerry