Officials said that a deterioration in Zimbabwe’s internal politics – including the recent resumption of land seizures and political violence – had scuppered attempts to arrange a meeting between Mark Canning, the British ambassador and Mr Mugabe before the end of the year.
But Mr Mugabe’s senior lieutenants in ZANU PF have lobbied with undisguised eagerness for a meeting. Walter Mzembi, the tourism minister, met Henry Bellingham, the junior Foreign Office minister for Africa, in London this week.
Afterwards he said that Mr Cameron had made a positive impression on the Zimbabwean ruling party as "constructive and refreshing" and said Britain had deep, binding ties to Zimbabwe that could not be wished away.
" I have no doubt in my mind that they find a generational connection with some of us and we must leverage that to advance our own interests," he said.
Mr Bellingham told a meeting at Chatham House this week that British officials were willing to meet any Zimbabwean minister who was willing to promote reform.
Mr Mugabe took spectacular umbrage against Britain in 1997 after Clare Short, the Development Secretary, rejected his pleas for London to fund the transfer of 4,000 white-owned farms to the black majority. He then oversaw a forced seizure programme that destroyed the country’s economy. "Down with the British" became his favourite catchcry as he accused white Zimbabwean landowners of being a front for perpetuated colonial power.
It was only the establishment of a coalition with the Movement for Democratic Change opposition in 2009 that pulled Zimbabwe out of its tailspin and British officials are keen to ensure that foreign pressure is exerted on Mr Mugabe to maintain the power-sharing structure until fresh elections can be held under a new constitution.
Mr Canning was lectured on British colonial wrongs when he presented his credentials to Mr Mugabe last year. But there has been a gradual thaw in a decade freeze in contacts with Mr Mugabe’s regime. Simon Khaya Moyo, the national chairman of Zanu PF, met with Mr Canning in March.
British aid to Zimbabwe exceeds £66 million and helping to fund a scheme to give new school books to every child in the country.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, former British Minister for the Home Office and Foreign Office, Lord Renton, told the House of Lords during question time that offering Mugabe a home would be the best way for the British government to help the people of Zimbabwe.
Renton said: "Would you agree that the best way for us to help and assist the economic recovery of Zimbabwe would be to offer President Mugabe a safe, comfortable and well looked after home in Britain?"
Renton was Margaret Thatcher’s chief whip between 1989 and 1990 and served in John Major’s government as minister for the arts between 1990 and 1992.
In response to the offer, Zanu PF says its ageing leader, does not need a home in the UK as suggested by a former British minister this week whom the revolutionary party accuses of being silly and naïve to think the “warrior” would leave his territory.
Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said suggestions by Lord Renton to give Mugabe a home in the UK as part of efforts to resolve the Zimbabwe economic and political situation were a joke.
“It’s silly. President Mugabe does not need a home anywhere other than Zimbabwe. He was born here, fought here and he is still fighting and from here the illegal sanctions imposed on the country,” Gumbo told the Daily News.“You can’t expect a warrior like President Mugabe to leave his territory and accept a home in the UK. It’s a joke made in poor taste.”
Gumbo said Mugabe would always be a Zimbabwean first and any suggestion that he be given a home in the UK was stupid.
Mugabe and his allies in Zanu PF have been slapped with travel bans by the UK and the European Union in response to Harare’s flagrant violations of human rights and lack of respect for the rule of law.
A former darling of the West and the UK, in particular, the 86 year-old Zimbabwean leader’s relations with London are now very frosty.
Mugabe has not been to the UK in almost a decade since former premier Tony Blair imposed targeted sanctions on him and colleagues in Zanu PF.
But Mugabe has consistently and spiritedly accused both the UK and US of using sanctions to hurt his administration as a punitive measure for embarking on the agrarian reforms in 2000 which drove white commercial farmers off prime farming land.
Zanu PF and Mugabe accuse Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of taking instructions from the West and of being “used” as their agent to topple the aged President.
On Wednesday, British government officials urged Zimbabwe to comply with global diamond trade regulations and said most of the finest stones are being smuggled out of its rich Marange fields.
Zimbabwe said last week it would soon start selling millions of carats of diamonds from the Marange fields, even though the global body that regulates conflict diamonds, known as the Kimberley Process, said it had not yet approved the sale.
"I would urge the Zimbabwe government to do all it possibly can to become compliant with Kimberley and that will mean that we will get much more money coming into the Zimbabwe Exchequer," Britain’s Africa minister Henry Bellingham said, speaking at London’s Chatham House think tank.
He said the rich diamond deposits at Marange were funding "hardliners" when they should be benefiting the people of Zimbabwe.
Britain’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mark Canning, said most high-grade diamonds from Marange were "going out of the back door."
"The composition of Marange diamonds is very distinct … If you tip a pot of them on the table … you don’t see many of the top 14 percent on the table," he said at the same event.
Officials of Zimbabwe and of the Kimberley Process, the regulator that certifies diamonds to ensure they are not used to finance wars, gave conflicting views on the outcome of a closed-door meeting in Jerusalem last week.
Boaz Hirsch, chairman of the Kimberley Process, said no agreement had been reached on exports from Marange.
But Obert Moses Mpofu, Zimbabwe’s mines and mining development minister, said there was an agreement for Zimbabwe to sell diamonds from Marange.
Mpofu told Reuters Zimbabwe had a stockpile of as much as 4.5 million carats of diamonds to sell.
In June, Zimbabwe’s government agreed that diamonds from Marange would be sold only under the Kimberley Process.
Marange became involved with the Kimberley Process after 30,000 illegal diggers descended on the fields in 2006, prompting the government to deploy the army to stop rampant panning and smuggling. Zimbabwe has accused the West of a plot to stop it from benefiting from diamonds.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and former colonial power Britain often clashed under 13 years of Labour rule in Britain.
Britain’s six-month-old coalition government has applauded economic progress under Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government but wants more political reforms
-Additional reporting – Reuters and Telegraph (UK)