US and UK sets conditions for unity government support

Britain said those tests include "the immediate release of political prisoners; an end to political violence and intimidation; the repeal of repressive legislation; crucially, the appointment of a credible financial team and the production of a credible economic plan; and a clear road map to the national elections, with guarantees that they will be conducted freely and fairly, in full view of the international community."

"Those are the tests that we will apply, and urge others to apply, to the new power-sharing arrangements," said Ivan Lewis, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development.

Answering questions from MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Lewis said Britain "respected Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision to assume the position of Prime Minister" in a government with Mugabe, adding: "Equally, however, we will judge that agreement and the Government on their behaviour and conduct in the period ahead."

The African Union and the regional trade bloc SADC this week called on western countries, particularly Britain and the United States, to begin unrolling a sanctions regime which has been in place for over seven years in recognition of Mugabe’s decision to share power with his opposition rivals after 29 years of uninterrupted rule.

The United States shot back on Wednesday, insisting that lifting sanctions at this early stage of the formation of the unity government would be premature.

Acting State Department spokesman Robert Wood said: "We need to see evidence of good governance and particularly real, true power sharing on the part of Robert Mugabe before we are going to make any kind of commitment."

Along with good governance, the Obama administration wants to see "a government that truly reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people," Wood said.

While welcoming Tsvangirai’s inclusion in the government, and acknowledging that he would need international help to confront Zimbabwe’s food, health and economic crises, Wood said the United States "will not consider providing additional development assistance or even easing sanctions until we see effective governance in the country."

" That’s going to be key," he said, "And then we’ll see what … we can do."

Paul Moorcraft, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis in London, said: “The assumption is money is going to flow in. It is not. There are a whole lot of benchmarks which are tied to EU (European Union) funds.

“I can understand the MDC; Zimbabwe is in such terrible state but in a sense the MDC has undermined a major American push to … get rid of Mugabe”.

Middle East and Africa analyst Mike Davies said: “Probably the major test for the MDC is going to be on the economy, and its own legitimacy to some extent is going to be tested. The MDC is repeating what happened to Joshua Nkomo and his party.… It is going to be swallowed up.”

Economist John Robertson said it remained to be seen if western states would accept that Mugabe was still in power