, SAN JOSE, Jul 23 – The interim foreign minister of Honduras rapidly extinguished hopes Wednesday of a last ditch deal to resolve the deep crisis there, insisting that ousted President Manuel Zelaya could not return.
Shortly beforehand, crisis mediator and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias proposed that Zelaya return Friday, in an expansion of a first plan already rejected by the de facto leaders who backed the army’s expulsion of the Honduran leader on June 28.
"The return of Mr Zelaya as president… impossible," interim foreign minister Carlos Lopez Contreras said on CNN’s Spanish edition in Costa Rica.
Everything else was up for negotiation, he added.
De facto leader Roberto Micheletti said in Honduras that he would withhold comment until the negotiators returned from Costa Rica.
Meanwhile, Zelaya told Venezuela’s Telesur channel that the crisis mediation "had practically failed."
The interim leaders "have decided to deny all possibility of an agreement," he added.
The second plan proposed in Costa Rica by Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, maintained the demand for Zelaya’s return, but also included a timetable for the accords and "suggestions" from the interim government.
Zelaya’s previous foreign minister, Milton Jimenez, said in Guatemala that "they accept the agreement."
If both sides failed to agree, Arias suggested they now turn to other international bodies, including the Organization of American States (OAS), to seek a solution "to the worst crisis in almost three decades of the young Honduran democracy."
Arias’s new plan also called for Zelaya to remain in the presidency until the end of the current period in January.
It also included setting up a national unity government, advancing November elections by one month, amnesty for political crimes for six months and the immediate lifting of sanctions on Honduras.
The new text also implied the return of de facto leader Micheletti to head the Congress and called on Zelaya to give up his plans to reform the constitution — a key issue in his dispute with the country’s courts, military and Congress.
A frustrated Arias said that Honduras had turned into the North Korea or Albania of Central America.
Despite increasing international isolation, the interim leaders have maintained that Zelaya will be arrested if he attempts to come back.
Zelaya, exiled in neighboring Nicaragua, has said he would return "by air, land or sea."
But Hondurans remains deeply split over the possibility of his return, with many fearing more violence after Zelaya’s spectacular first attempt left at least one protester dead in clashes with soldiers.
Hundreds of white-clad demonstrators on Wednesday protested against Zelaya’s return in the capital of an increasingly polarized Honduras.
A top European official meanwhile called on both sides to ease the tension, after the European Union this week suspended 65.5 million euros (93 million dollars) in aid to Honduran institutions in the latest international aid freeze.
"Everything must be done so there is a peaceful solution, not a military confrontation," External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in Mexico.