Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is set to have his first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Friday, part of a bid to woo financial support for the unity government he shares uneasily with rival Mugabe.
But Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of State for African Affairs, said more political, social and economic reforms were needed either before substantial U.S. aid could kick in or targeted sanctions against Mugabe were lifted.
"There is no indication that the U.S. government is prepared to lift economic sanctions against those in Zimbabwe who have been most responsible for undermining the country’s democracy and destroying its economy," Carson said in an interview with Reuters.
"Increasingly substantial aid is dependent upon them making political concessions and fulfilling the agreements that they have already made and in returning the country back towards more democratic rule," he said.
The White House said Obama was looking forward to meeting Tsvangirai, who formed a unity government with Mugabe after a bitterly disputed election last year and a brutal crackdown on the opposition.
"The two leaders will discuss the difficult road ahead in Zimbabwe, including how the United States can support the forces of reform as they work to bring the rule of law, respect for human rights, and free and fair elections back to Zimbabwe," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
While "deeply concerned" about the lack of reforms, Carson said the United States would continue humanitarian assistance, particularly for healthcare, and to boost democracy and governance in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s economy is in ruins with hyperinflation and unemployment at around 90 percent. Millions are in need of food and the country’s infrastructure and institutions are in shambles — a situation the West blames on Mugabe’s mismanagement.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, says the country’s economic woes are caused by sanctions imposed by the United States and others.
Targeted sanctions include financial and visa restrictions against selected individuals, a ban on transfers of military items and a suspension of non-humanitarian aid.
Carson said Mugabe and his supporters must recognize that for any major aid to kick in there had to be an end to the harassment of officials from Tsvangirai’s party, civil society groups as well as opposition politicians "of all stripes."
In addition, media censorship must end and restrictions removed on foreign journalists coming into the country as well as a commitment to free and fair elections.
Tsvangirai is set to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday as part of his visit to Washington, which follows on from a trip to Europe this week.
In an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation last month, Clinton said it was in the "best interests of everyone" if Mugabe stepped down.
Carson echoed her comments by saying: "Zimbabwe would probably benefit at this period from new leadership but democratically elected leadership, leadership that is a result of a free and fair election process in which people are allowed to vote without fear of harassment and intimidation prior to or at the polls."