Clinton also told South African state television that the US would not resume aid to the Zimbabwean government as long as it could not be sure it would reach the people concerned.
"We’re encouraged by the new unity government that has been created. We are not yet ready to change our policy, but it is under review," Clinton said when asked about whether the US would support the new government financially.
"It’s important to us that any aid from any source get to the people of Zimbabwe," Clinton said in the interview given on Tuesday but distributed by the State Department on Wednesday.
President Mugabe and his rival Morgan Tsvangirai on February 11 formed a power-sharing government tasked with steering Zimbabwe back to stability after disputed elections last year plunged the country into crisis.
Relations within the government remain tense.
Under the fledgling government’s watch, more than $800-million in credit lines have been secured to rebuild the shattered economy, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said it will resume technical aid to Harare.
But that is still a fraction of the $8,5-billion the government says it needs, and private firms say they want more guarantees that the rule of law will be respected before they invest.
Clinton’s interviewer asked if she would "like to see President Mugabe go first before you can come in?" The chief US diplomat replied: "I think that would be in the best interests of everyone."
It was the first time that she had spoken about the fate of the ageing leader. Former president George Bush had called for Mugabe’s departure.
The secretary of state called on South Africa to apply more pressure on the Zimbabwean government.
"I think it’s up to the people and the government, and, frankly, the neighbours. South Africa has a big role to play in this," she said.
She recognised Mugabe’s "historic contribution" to Zimbabwe in a way that suggested she believed time was up for the man who came to power in 1980 when the country formerly known as Rhodesia gained independence from Britain.
"No one questions his early commitment to freedom and to an end of colonialism and oppression … But for whatever reason, the last years of his rule have hurt so many of his people," she said.
"So it is not for us to make that determination, but we hope that the government, whoever is running it, will be devoted to reconstructing that country with its extraordinary potential and taking its rightful place as a developing country that holds such promise," Clinton said. — Sapa-AFP