President Barack Obama on Monday declared that the United States still considers Manuel Zelaya to be the president of Honduras and assailed the coup that forced him into exile as "not legal," deepening the chasm between the Central American nation and much of the rest of the world.
"It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections," Obama said in the Oval Office after meeting with Colombian President Alviro Uribe. "The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Central America and Latin America. We don't want to go back to a dark past."
Leaders from across the Western Hemisphere and beyond called for return to power of Zelaya, who arrested on Sunday morning by soldiers who stormed his residence and forced him into exile. The country now has another president appointed by its Congress, Roberto Micheletti, who insisted that Zelaya was legally removed by the courts and Congress for violating Honduras' constitution and attempting to extend his own rule.
"We are very clear about the fact that President Zelaya is the democratically elected president," Obama said.
The United States, he said, will work the Organization of American States and other bodies to try to resolve the conflict peacefully.
The OAS was holding an emergency session on the crisis Tuesday.
Mr. Obama also said he is confident that the United States and Colombia ultimately can reach a deal on a stalled trade agreement.
The president said some clear difficulties remain, but a compromise can be worked out that is good for the people of both nations.
He expressed concern about killings of labor leaders in Colombia and about human rights in general there. Mr. Obama also said that Uribe is committed to the rule of law.
Mr. Obama says he has instructed U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk to work with Uribe's team on how to best continue.