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US Disappointed With Neighbors' Role on Zimbabwe

U.S. officials Tuesday expressed disappointment over the role of Zimbabwe's neighbors in that country's electoral crisis. Southern African leaders met last weekend in Zambia, but did not condemn Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's handling of the disputed March 29 election. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department says South Africa has more influence with Zimbabwe than any other country and should consider what it can do to positively affect the situation in Harare.

The comments came amid a wave of criticism of South African President Thabo Mbeki and other regional leaders for not taking a stronger stand on Zimbabwe at their weekend summit in Lusaka.

Mr. Mbeki preceded his attendance at the summit of SADC, the Southern African Development Community, with a visit to Harare and a pronouncement that there was no crisis there.

The remark, and the subsequent failure of SADC to demand the immediate release of delayed election results, drew criticism from, among others, the Washington Post newspaper, which Tuesday called the episode a new low in what it termed a "perverse and immoral policy" by Mr. Mbeki on human rights.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States does believe Zimbabwe is in both a political and economic crisis, because of the Mugabe government, and that Mr. Mbeki's critics raise a "good question" about how South Africa uses its influence:

"It is a worthy question for all states, including South Africa, to answer what can they do," he said. "What can you do to help end this crisis and put Zimbabwe back on a better path, one that will mean a better future for Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe?"

A diplomat who spoke to reporters here said administration officials do not think more direct criticism of Mr. Mbeki would be productive.

While disappointed with the SADC summit, the diplomat said the Lusaka meeting featured an all-night discussion of Zimbabwe, indicating active debate within the grouping about what to do.

Spokesman McCormack reiterated U.S. "deep concern" about the continued absence of official results from the disputed March 29 presidential vote, and the announcement of a re-count in some districts.

The spokesman said there has not been a good "chain of custody" over the ballots and ballot boxes, and that anything could have happened to them since election day.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangerai asserts he won the election outright and is resisting a run-off with Mr. Mugabe.