Honduran lawmakers will not decide whether to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya until after upcoming presidential elections, the congressional leader said Tuesday, a decision that could undermine international support for the vote.
Congress will meet Dec. 2 _ three days after the Nov. 29 election _ to decide whether Zelaya should be returned the presidency to finish his constitutional term, which ends in January, congressional president Jose Alfredo Saavedra told local HRN radio station.
Several Latin American countries have warned they will not recognize the outcome of the election unless Zelaya is restored beforehand. But the United States has not ruled out restoring diplomatic ties with a newly elected Honduran government even if Zelaya remains out of power through the vote.
Zelaya warned over the weekend that he would not return to the presidency if Congress votes to restore him after the elections, saying doing so would legitimize the June 28 coup.
The administration of President Barack Obama has repeatedly said recognition of the election is not linked to any one action, said State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet. Rather, he said, the State Department is hoping a broader, U.S.-brokered accord is enacted.
"Congress deciding on the issue of restitution of President Zelaya is one of those things we've urged them to act with expedience on, and we welcome all actions that could move forward toward resolution," Luoma-Overstreet told The Associated Press.
Both Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti signed the agreement brokered by U.S. diplomats last month. However, the two sides are now at odds over whether the pact is being fulfilled.
The accord calls for formation of a national unity government, but does not require Zelaya's restoration to office, leaving that decision up to Congress. It set no deadline for lawmakers to vote.
Zelaya, who has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy since sneaking back into the country from his forced exile, declared the pact a failure two weeks ago when Micheletti announced the formation of a unity government before Congress had voted.
Later Tuesday, Zelaya criticized lawmakers' decision to vote on his reinstatement after the election.
"What Congress has done is an atrocity," he told Radio Globo. "I did the right thing by getting out of Micheletti's dirty game."
Craig Kelly, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, arrived in Honduras to talk to the feuding sides, said Ledy Pacheco, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
It is Kelly's second trip in less than a week to try to revive the accord. He met separately with Micheletti and Zelaya.
"As friends of the Honduran people, we will continue working with both sides to look for solutions," Kelly said after meeting with Zelaya.
The Honduran crisis has been one of the biggest diplomatic challenges in Latin America for the Obama administration. Washington joined other Western Hemisphere governments in suspending diplomatic ties with Honduras after soldiers flew Zelaya into exile at gunpoint.
Now, Washington could find itself at odds with many Latin American countries if it decides to recognize the election, undermining its efforts to improve relations with the region.
However, the Obama administration is under pressure from Republican congressional leaders to support the vote. Leading Republicans have questioned why the United States has called for the restoration of a president who had aligned himself with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Some Republicans have also sided with the Micheletti government, which argued that Zelaya's ouster was justified because he had violated a Supreme Court order to cancel a referendum on changing the constitution.
Opponents accused Zelaya of trying to extend his time in office by lifting a ban on presidential re-election, as Chavez has done in Venezuela. Zelaya denied that was his goal.
Neither Zelaya or Micheletti are running in the presidential election, which had been scheduled before the coup. One independent, leftist candidate has dropped out of the race to protest the coup. But the top two contenders _ including the candidate of Zelaya's Liberal Party _ have urged the international community not to punish the next government.
Honduras' Congress is waiting for the Supreme Court and the Attorney General's Office to submit opinions on whether Zelaya should be restored to office.
Government lawyers submitted their own opinion Tuesday. Rosa America Miranda, the top government lawyer, would not give details on that opinion, but emphasized that it took into account Zelaya's defiance of the Supreme Court before the coup.
Associated Press writer Martha Mendoza in Mexico City contributed to this report.