The two rivals in Honduras' political crisis are ready to hold talks to discuss a solution to last month's coup after the United States called for dialogue over confrontation in the Central American state.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, facing a major test of its promise to improve relations with Latin America, has weighed in with clear support for mediation by Costa Rica's president to prevent bloodshed in one of the region's poorest countries.
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, backed by an international community that strongly condemned the coup, says he is ready to hold a dialogue with those who toppled him at gunpoint on June 28 and sent him into exile in his pyjamas.
Under the mediation of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mr. Zelaya will meet in Costa Rica on Thursday with the interim government of caretaker President Roberto Micheletti, who was installed by the Honduran Congress after the coup. Mr. Micheletti has agreed to attend the talks, which he called a dialogue - not negotiation.
"We'll see how long it will take us to discover if it's possible to find a satisfactory solution for both sides," Arias told the Caracas-based Telesur regional TV channel.
Throwing Washington's weight behind Arias' role, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Mr. Zelaya in a meeting on Tuesday to "try the dialogue process and see where it leads".
This appeared to steer the ousted president away from more confrontational attempts to return to power, such as his failed bid to land in Tegucigalpa on Sunday in a plane provided by his leftist ally, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Mr. Chavez is a fierce critic of Washington and a friend of communist-ruled Cuba and Zelaya's closeness with Chavez was one of the reasons cited by those who deposed him.
The Organization of American States, which on Saturday suspended Honduras after the caretaker government refused to reinstate Mr. Zelaya, also expressed support for Mr. Arias's mediation.
Mr. Arias is a widely respected international peacemaker who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his work in ending interlocking conflicts in several Central American countries during the Cold War tensions that gripped the region in the 1980s.
But he faces entrenched positions in the Honduran crisis, with both sides saying they have the country's people and the constitution behind them and both saying their positions are non-negotiable.
Mr. Micheletti's interim government, although it risks international isolation, says it acted lawfully in removing Mr. Zelaya, who it says was illegally trying to lift limits on presidential terms to extend his rule.
Mr. Micheletti said if Mr. Zelaya returned it would not be as president but to face justice for crimes he said the deposed leader had committed.
Mr. Zelaya was equally adamant that Thursday's talks could only address his return to office as president. He accused the "government of coup-mongers" of repressing popular street protests by his supporters in Tegucigalpa.
"I think the establishment of peace and harmony must come through the restoration of my government," he said. At least one person was killed when Honduran troops prevented the return of Mr. Zelaya's plane on Sunday, and clashed with his supporters.
Some analysts were skeptical whether the talks could provide an agreement to end the Honduras crisis.
"It is difficult to see how this mediation will succeed, so long as the coup government knows that they can stall out the rest of Mr. Zelaya's term. The only thing that can remove them from office, in conjunction with massive protests, is real economic sanctions," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the U.S.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research think tank.
But others were more optimistic.
"I think we are on the way to building a dialogue which will be extremely productive and good for Honduras," former Honduran President Ricardo Maduro said in Washington.