U.S. seeks strong U.N. action over Zimbabwe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States wants the United Nations to take strong action to push Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to reach a power-sharing deal with the opposition, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.\r\n

A State Department official said the Obama administration was pushing Zimbabwe’s neighbors to use their influence over Mugabe but was also exploring U.N. Security Council action to help ease the economic and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, in power since 1980, is widely blamed for economic ruin in Zimbabwe, once seen as the region’s breadbasket. The country suffers from runaway inflation and a cholera epidemic and its infrastructure and basic services have collapsed.

"We are looking at what can be done and what the United Nations can do to bring added pressure on Mugabe to accept real opposition membership in government," said the official, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to comment publicly.

"Our goal is to get strong, concerted action in the best form possible at the United Nations," he added when asked whether it would be a resolution that included sanctions.

Mugabe and his entourage are subject to a host of U.S., British and European Union sanctions but the United Nations has not so far imposed punitive measures.

Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai reached a power-sharing deal in September but it has not been put into effect. Regional leaders decided at a summit in South Africa on Tuesday that a unity government should be formed next month.

The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, is expected to push for U.N. measures, a senior U.S. official said, but added he did not know what they would include.

NEW SANCTIONS CONSIDERED

Russia and China last July vetoed a Western-backed Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe over the violence-ridden presidential election.

A European diplomat at the United Nations in New York said getting Russian and Chinese support for U.N. measures now would depend on how bad the situation in Zimbabwe was deemed to be.

"The Russians have always said that they haven’t ruled out being able to agree to a sanctions resolution," the diplomat said.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood declined to discuss in detail what action the United States wanted the U.N. to take but said Washington had been discussing the possibilities with other member states.

He said Mugabe was not interested in getting an "equitable solution" to the current political crisis and blamed him squarely for Zimbabwe’s economic ruin.

"He’s completely out of touch with the reality on the ground. His people are suffering greatly," said Wood.  

A cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe is deepening and the U.S. Agency for International Development said on Wednesday it was sending more aid to help ease the crisis, including 440,000 bars of soap to be distributed via the U.N. Children’s fund.

The World Health Organization estimates cholera has killed more than 3,000 Zimbabweans and infected at least 57,000, making it the deadliest outbreak in Africa in 15 years.

The United States has pledged $6.8 million in emergency aid for Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak, USAID said.