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INTERVIEW - Honduras de facto leader confident U.S. will back vote
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The de facto leader who took power in Honduras after a June coup is confident the United States will recognize a Nov. 29 presidential election and help end the country's international isolation.
Roberto Micheletti, a conservative lawmaker sworn into office hours after soldiers exiled leftist President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, told Reuters that if the United States recognizes the vote, other countries could follow suit.
"Panama already said it would recognize us. The United States will recognize us. Two countries that are important to us: one close in the region, the other the most powerful country in the world," Micheletti said on Monday at the presidential palace where he runs the de facto government.
Neither Micheletti nor Zelaya -- who has been holed up inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa since he snuck back into the country in September -- are running for president.
But after a U.S.-backed deal to settle Central America's worst political crisis in decades broke down this month over whether Zelaya can be temporarily returned to power, some Latin American nations threatened not to recognize the vote result.
Washington -- which condemned the coup -- has not given an official position on the election, but has suggested it will support the outcome whether or not Zelaya is reinstated.
The coup sparked international outrage and gave President Barack Obama a foreign policy headache in Latin America, a region where he has pledged to improve ties. Some countries froze aid to the impoverished coffee and banana producer.
The gruff white-haired Micheletti said he would not have done anything differently, however. "There were no mistakes in the process," he said.
Micheletti plans to step down before the election, on Nov. 25, and return on Dec. 2. He says he will abide by an agreement between the rival sides to let Congress be the body that decides if Zelaya can return to office to see out his term.
"If Congress decides Mr. Zelaya can come back, in that moment I will step down and he can take office," Micheletti said. "I don't think that will happen." He said if Congress decides against Zelaya's return, he will stay in office until a new president is sworn in on Jan. 27.
Congress, which Micheletti headed before the coup, voted to strip Zelaya of his powers in June after the Supreme Court ruled he violated the constitution in what critics called a veiled bid to extend presidential term limits.
A wealthy rancher who had angered business leaders by growing close to Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez, Zelaya denies the charge. He says any election organized by Micheletti's government will be illegal.
Micheletti is also standing firm against his rival, saying he will be arrested if he sets foot outside the embassy.
"Everyone who has committed a crime should pay," Micheletti said. "If he is prepared to leave there and show his face in court, than I would consider that the correct thing to do."
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