SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — The two men claiming the
presidency of Honduras
gathered here Thursday to begin talks aimed at resolving the political standoff that has divided their country.
The talks between the ousted Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya
, and the man who has replaced him at the helm of the nation’s de facto government, Roberto Micheletti
, are the first between the opposing sides since Mr. Zelaya was rousted by soldiers and thrown out of his country late last month.
The discussions are being mediated by President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who helped usher this impoverished region out of the conflicts of the cold war. But as the two rivals finally came together Thursday, it became came clear how far they were from an agreement.
Upon arriving Wednesday, Mr. Zelaya said he had not come to negotiate, but to set the terms of his return. In a news conference, he said negotiating “would be like inviting to dialogue someone who violated your family.”
Mr. Micheletti, who arrived Thursday, said he was confident that Mr. Arias would find a solution that “fit within the frame of the Constitution.” He added, “This is a difficult situation, but I am sure President Arias can find a solution.”
Mr. Arias himself seemed to acknowledge the considerable challenge ahead in a news conference Wednesday. “In two days there could be a solution,” he said. “Or it could be that in two months there is no solution.”
Both sides have stuck to their positions adamantly. Much of the world has opposed the ouster of Mr. Zelaya, with the United Nations General Assembly
demanding his reinstatement and the Organization of American States
suspending Honduras from its ranks for refusing to do so.
Even so, the de facto Honduran government has repeatedly warned that Mr. Zelaya would be arrested upon his return to the country and refused to let his plane land when he tried to come back on Sunday, setting off angry protests.
Officials were reluctant to give details of the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, and it was unclear even moments before the talks were to begin whether Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti would speak face to face.
But an aide to Costa Rica’s foreign minister said that Mr. Arias had invited the leaders to his home, as a way of building trust and a sense of intimacy. Mr. Arias, who is divorced, lives alone in a big house with an indoor swimming pool in one of the wealthy areas west of downtown. The aide said, however, that there would be little extravagance.
When asked whether the group would have a meal, the aide smiled and shook his head, saying there would be little more than coffee and juice. He joked that Mr. Arias may seat the group near the kitchen, where they might capture the smells from breakfast. But, he said there were no plans for eating.
“He’s a torturer that way,” the aide said of Mr. Arias. “He knows that people think better when they are hungry.”
Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, said that during the 1980s Mr. Arias was “a thorn in the side” of the Reagan administration, which had been supporting Nicaraguan rebels in their fight against the Sandinista government.
Mr. Arias’s predecessor, Luis Alberto Monge, received hundreds of millions of dollars in American aid and turned a blind eye as the C.I.A.
used northern Costa Rica as a strategic outpost to supply the rebels. But when Mr. Arias took power in 1986, he discovered and closed down a secret landing strip in northern Costa Rica the agency had used to supply contra rebels in neighboring Nicaragua, Mr. Kornbluh said.
“He was throwing a monkey wrench into the contra war in the name of peace,” Mr. Kornbluh said.
Mr. Arias led negotiations toward a Central American peace agreement, for which he was awarded the peace prize, while the Reagan administration grappled with the fallout from what came to be known as the Iran-contra affair.
Now Mr. Arias is backed by the American government as he seeks to mediate a resolution to the Honduran political crisis.