Representatives of ousted president Manuel Zelaya and Honduras' interim government signed an agreement late Thursday that could open the way for Zelaya's reinstatement four months after he was forced out in a coup.
No text of the accord was immediately released, but it was greeted by all sides as a resolution to the long-running political dispute that has polarized the country and subjected it to international sanctions.
"Tonight I am pleased to announce that … I authorized my negotiating team to sign a final accord that marks the beginning of the end to the political situation in the country," interim president Roberto Micheletti said in a televised address.
The agreement appears to soften Micheletti's previous stance that the Supreme Court — which has already rejected Zelaya's reinstatement — decide the issue.
Instead, the high court would make a recommendation, but the final decision would be left to a vote in Congress.
Praise for agreement
The agreement also creates a power-sharing government and requires both sides to recognize the Nov. 29 presidential elections. The international community has threatened to not recognize the vote if Zelaya is not reinstated, but on Thursday, Organization of American States Political Affairs Secretary Victor Rico told reporters that both the OAS and the United States "will accompany Honduras in the elections" as a result of the accord.
Zelaya also praised the agreement, though it is unclear whether he has a chance in a congressional vote.
"We are optimistic because Hondurans can reach agreements that are fulfilled," Zelaya told Radio Globo, an opposition station, adding, "This signifies my return to power in the coming days, and peace for Honduras."
The agreement, if it holds, could represent a much-needed foreign policy victory for the United States, which dispatched a senior team of diplomats to coax both sides back to the table.
"This is a great moment for Honduras, and its people should be proud that Hondurans have achieved this accord," said Tom Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who arrived with the U.S. delegation Wednesday.
Rico said "[the negotiators] are the heroes of Honduran democracy … and this is a great moment for Honduras." The OAS had tried for months to bring the two sides together.
Micheletti called the pact a "significant concession" on his part. He also said that one of the provisions of the pact requires foreign powers to drop sanctions and reverse aid cutoffs imposed after the coup, and send observers to the upcoming elections.
The Supreme Court has already rejected Zelaya's return, saying he was replaced as president on June 28 because he violated the constitution by pressing for a vote on potential constitutional reforms.
Zelaya's opponents accused him of attempting to pass the reforms in order to end a ban on presidential term limits — something the leftist leader denies.
Zelaya, who is holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital, has said Congress should make the decision on his reinstatement, even though he currently enjoys the support of only about a fifth of the legislators.
Earlier Thursday, police fired tear gas to disperse a march of about 1,000 Zelaya supporters as they neared the hotel where the talks were taking place.