The State Department said Friday the United States and other donor countries stand ready to provide development aid to Zimbabwe, if the unity government continues on the path to reform. Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai made a new appeal for outside assistance this week aimed at the G-20 summit of economic powers in London.
The Obama administration had dismissed early appeals from the unity government for reconstruction aid, contending that the mere fact that President Robert Mugabe had brought former opponents into the government was not sufficient for a change in assistance policy.
But it now appears to be taking a more positive view of the political situation in Harare, even while insisting on further reforms.
The United States and European allies imposed targeted travel and economic sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and key aides because of past electoral and human rights abuses, and have limited aid to Zimbabwe to humanitarian assistance delivered by non-governmental groups.
The first sign of an easing of policy came in a statement issued after a State Department meeting of 18 potential donor countries and international lending institutions two weeks ago.
The statement by the so-called like-minded countries commended reform efforts by the unity government, which took office in February, and said the donor community is ready to support Zimbabwe's rebuilding effort with development assistance, provided there are additional reform steps.
Asked about this week's new aid appeal by Mr. Tsvangirai, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the statement from the March 20 meeting reflects U.S. policy. "Provided we see further political and economic reforms, the donor community stands ready to help rebuild Zimbabwe with development assistance. But that hasn't happened yet, and there are a number of things that need to take place. And, until we see further reforms, I don't think we can make any kind of commitment right now to restore our development assistance. However, as you know, we and others in the international community are very focused on the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, and that's where our efforts are focused right now," he said.
Mr. Tsvangirai, in his written appeal to the G-20 summit countries, said the unity government has already made small but significant progress in tackling the country's economic crisis, including runaway inflation, while acknowledging resistance to reforms by what he termed non-democratic hardliners.
In asking for immediate outside aid, he said Zimbabweans standing up for democratic ideals should not have to pay a further price because the new government does not yet fulfill all of the reform terms set by would-be donors.
The statement from the March 20 meeting here called for, among other things, the release of all Zimbabwean political prisoners, an end to media harassment and seizures of commercial farms and a commitment to credible elections in a timely manner.
It said donors will work closely with the guarantors of the Harare political accord - the African Union and southern African regional grouping SADC - in encouraging its full implementation, and said that subject to performance by the unity government, they will develop an appropriate framework for re-engagement with Zimbabwe.
In the meantime, they said they would maintain, and to the extent possible, increase, humanitarian aid programs that have collectively totaled just under $1 billion since the beginning of last year.