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DEAL WOULD ALLOW HONDURAN PRESIDENT TO RETURN

WASHINGTON - Less than two days after senior U.S. officials arrived in Honduras, the head of the nation's de facto government signed an agreement that would allow the return of the nation's ousted president, paving the way for an end to Latin America's deepest political crisis in years.

The deal, which must still be approved by the Honduran Congress, ended months of intransigence by leaders of the de facto government. After President Manuel Zelaya's expulsion from the country on June 28, the new government had steadfastly refused to accept his restoration to office, despite sweeping international condemnation, isolation from its neighbors and multiple rounds of failed negotiations.

Roberto Micheletti, the head of Honduras' de facto government, relented late Thursday only after senior Obama administration officials landed in the Honduran capital to take charge of the talks, reassuring both sides that the United States would remain engaged in the coming months to ensure that the terms of the deal were not violated.

The agreement provided an important lesson on Latin America for the Obama administration, officials close to the talks said. For months, the administration had resisted driving the negotiations to resolve the crisis, positioning itself as just another member of a regional coalition that included both its allies and adversaries throughout the hemisphere.

But in a phone call last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made clear to Micheletti that the United States was getting impatient.

Some hurdles still have to be cleared, including an approval by the nation's Congress, which voted overwhelmingly to strip Zelaya of power four months ago and now must reinstate him. Zelaya told the Associated Press on Friday that he expects a decision in "more or less a week."

If the Congress agrees, Zelaya would serve out the remaining three months of his term. Moreover, the presidential election set for Nov. 29 would be recognized by both sides. Neither Zelaya nor Micheletti will be a candidate.

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