The 15-nation SADC grouping said after the meeting in South Africa — its fifth attempt to secure a deal on forming a unity government — it had agreed that opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai should be sworn in as prime minister by February 11.
All parties agreed control of Zimbabwe’s hotly disputed Home Affairs Ministry, which has been a major obstacle to a final agreement, should be divided between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the MDC for six months, said South African President Kgalema Motlanthe.
"All the parties expressed confidence in the process and committed to implementing the agreement," Motlanthe, current SADC chair, told a news conference.
But the MDC quickly issued a statement after the SADC communique was read out making clear its disappointment, raising the possibility that deadlock would drag on as Zimbabweans face growing economic hardship.
The MDC said "quite clearly the conclusions reached as reflected in the communique fall far short of our expectations".
The MDC said its national council would meet this weekend to define its position on the summit.
Signature of the power-sharing deal in September was seen as a chance to prevent an economic collapse that would add to the strain on neighbours already hosting millions of Zimbabweans who fled in search of work and, more recently, to escape a cholera epidemic.
"The ministers and deputy ministers shall be sworn in on 13 February 2009, which will conclude the process of the formation of the inclusive government," said the SADC communique.
Allocation of ministries would be reviewed six months after the inauguration of the government, it added.
Western leaders want Mugabe to step down and a democratic government to embrace economic reforms before billions of dollars in aid is offered, but Mugabe has refused.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is "very concerned" by Mugabe’s refusal to reach a deal and wants South Africa, which has the most regional economic and diplomatic clout, to put more pressure on him, the State Department said on Monday.
In Brussels, the European Union stepped up pressure on him by adding 27 individuals and 36 firms to a sanctions list, EU officials said on Monday.
Mugabe, in power since 1980, and his ZANU-PF party have urged the opposition to join a unity government but say they will not hesitate to form one without them.
Zimbabwe’s rival parties have been locked in a dispute over control of key ministries while prices double every day and cholera has killed nearly 2,900 people since August.
Zimbabweans want a new leadership to tackle severe food and fuel shortages and a financial meltdown that has rendered the local currency virtually worthless.