After talks, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and South African President Jacob Zuma issued a joint statement calling on Zimbabwe to "remove all obstacles to the full implementation of the global political agreement (unity pact) and the effective functioning of the inclusive government".
"We recognise and appreciate the humanitarian and other assistance that the international community continues to provide to the people of Zimbabwe," added the brief statement, notable for its absense of any reference to sanctions.
Zuma and his fellow southern African leaders issued a joint call for an end to the sanctions earlier this week and he made clear that he intended to bring up the subject during the summit with Reinfeldt.
But Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU’s revolving presidency, was equally insistent ahead of the talks that it was not time to drop the measures targeted against veteran President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle.
A high-ranking EU delegation is due in Zimbabwe this weekend for the first such visit in seven years, and six months after the signing of a unity accord between Mugabe and his long-time rival, now prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The pact has helped Zimbabwe stem its shattered economy but has been plagued by power-struggles over key posts and continued rights abuses. Several lawmakers from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party have been arrested, including its choice for deputy agriculture minister.
"Hopefully that will give us an on the spot description and possibility to learn more about the actual situation in Zimbabwe and we welcome that very much," Reinfeldt said during opening remarks at Friday’s summit.
After a regional summit in Kinshasa ended with a joint call for the end to the sanctions, the South African leader said he would continue to lobby the EU over the matter.
But the Swedish premier said on Thursday that penalties will be kept in place, saying that Zimbabwe’s mismanagement and poor human rights record and not sanctions were behind the country’s problems.
"I want to be clear: the EU is not prepared (for) lifting the restrictions we have on Zimbabwe," he said.
Speaking Friday at a gathering of his ZANU-PF party’s youth wing, Mugabe lashed out at the sanctions, condemning "bloody whites" for meddling in Zimbabwe’s affairs.
"Who said the British and the Americans should rule over others? That’s why we say down with you. We have not invited these bloody whites. They want to poke their nose into our own affairs. Refuse that," he said.
The former colonial power Britain and other EU countries imposed a travel ban and freeze on bank accounts belonging to Mugabe and his inner circle, over claims that he rigged a 2002 election and allegations of rights abuses.
The state-run Herald newspaper reported Friday that the EU was expected not only to end the sanctions but apologise for their imposition.
"There can be no ties where one nation is treated as inferior," an information ministry official said.
But the EU Aid Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who will lead the EU delegation, on Friday said the mission was "not about naming and blaming".
"It’s not about excuses and disputes it is a mission aiming at trying to find common ground so we can make progress with the political agreement and reinvigorate full co-operation with Zimbabwe."