A senior State Department official said Wednesday the Obama administration is considering a new push for action at the United Nations to get democratic change in Zimbabwe. Key members of the U.N. Security Council have thus far resisted broad sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Officials of the new Obama administration share the skepticism of their predecessors about chances that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe will accept meaningful power-sharing with the opposition. And they say the Obama team is considering a new sanctions push in the U.N. Security Council as a way to expedite democratic change in Harare.
Veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China blocked sanctions efforts during the Bush administration. Obama aides hope the situation might be different after the transfer of power in Washington and the fact that South Africa, which has been protective of Mr. Mugabe, no longer has a seat on the council.
Despite reports Wednesday that Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was again considering a unity government with Mr. Mugabe, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the long-time Zimbabwean leader "is clearly not interested" in an equitable solution to the country's political crisis, and has lost touch with the realities on the ground.
"There is a horrific cholera crisis in the country, and it's only recently I think that Mugabe even acknowledged that that that was the case," he said. "He's completely out of touch with the reality on the ground. His people are suffering greatly, and we're going to do what we can working with countries in the region to try to put additional pressure on Mugabe to negotiate seriously, and that's where we are."
A senior official here said the United States "is looking at" possible additional action in the United Nations, while stressing that the humanitarian situation in the country is the Obama administration's number one priority.
News reports have said the new administration may seek Security Council action that would effectively globalize the economic and travel sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and close associates, and a Zimbabwe arms sales ban, that have already been enacted by the United States and its European allies.
Spokesman Wood Wednesday insisted that those penalties are having an impact but that the key to forcing real change in Zimbabwe rests with the willingness to act by countries in the region.
Security Council opponents of Zimbabwe sanctions have argued that the country's problems do not rise to the level of a threat to international peace and security. But U.S. official say the cholera epidemic and the flight of impoverished Zimbabweans into South Africa and other neighboring states could change that view.