U.S worried about Zimbabwe cabinet impasse

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Washington is very concerned over a deadlock in Zimbabwe in forming a cabinet and has a new batch of sanctions ready if President Robert Mugabe reneges on his promises, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa said on Monday.

The U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi Frazer, said Washington was closely watching the impasse on cabinet posts since Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal last week.

"Of course, we will be looking very carefully at the outcome of this impasse," Frazer told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

"We understand that the Ministry of Home Affairs and Finance are being contested and the outcome of that will certainly make a difference in how we see this agreement and its viability," she added.

Also, if all of the ministries in charge of security remained in the hands of the ruling party, that would be problematic, particularly following the harassment meted out to the opposition during the disputed election, she said.

"What assurances does that provide the population that in the next election they won’t be abused and harassed and killed as they were leading up to the June 27 runoff," she said.

The United States has already imposed several rounds of sanctions targeting Mugabe and his senior staff, and Frazer said how the current cabinet impasse is resolved was one of the benchmarks for whether those punitive measures were lifted.

Another benchmark was that restrictions on humanitarian assistance should be reversed.

NO ROLLBACK "ON A PROMISE"

"For sure, we will keep the sanctions on until we see some performance of the government itself. We are not prepared to roll back sanctions on a promise," she said.

Before the power-sharing deal was signed, Frazer said Washington had a new package of sanctions in the works, targeting individuals and entities linked to Mugabe.

"We have another set ready. We have delayed moving forward with those sanctions because the agreement was signed but they are certainly ready at any point in time," said Frazer.

However, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa said the State Department and other U.S. government agencies were making plans to step up assistance programs at the appropriate time and send in teams of experts to help rebuild the shattered economy.

"We are planning on the basis of our optimism but our experience with this regime that is there, is that you have to keep the pressure on," she said.

"We want Zimbabwe to do well. The population has suffered for so long. No one wants a process that is a go-slow. We want an accelerated process but we have to have the confidence that we have a team in place that is committed to real reform," said Frazer.

The deal with Tsvangirai and the head of a breakaway opposition faction followed weeks of tense negotiations to end a political crisis compounded by the veteran leader’s disputed and unopposed reelection in a widely condemned vote in June.

Tsvangirai’s party is expected to get 13 cabinet posts in the new government, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF 15 and Arthur Mutambara’s breakaway MDC faction three.

The deal was mediated by neighboring South Africa whose foreign minister said in New York that she believed all sides would be able to reach a deal.

"We will assist when we are needed but we think that they should be able to find common ground," said Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at her side.