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US Considers New Sanctions on Zimbabwe's Mugabe

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee is warning of new targeted U.S. sanctions on Zimbabwe's leadership if there is no early progress toward political power-sharing. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department the U.S. envoy says humanitarian conditions in Zimbabwe are rapidly deteriorating amid the political impasse there.

The U.S. envoy in Harare says the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe has gone downhill rapidly since the political stalemate began in September, with growing hunger and now a cholera outbreak he says has claimed nearly 300 lives.

In a video hookup with reporters, Ambassador McGee said he saw no easing of conditions until President Robert Mugabe starts to act in good faith on power-sharing with Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

But McGee said Mr. Mugabe has thus far been willing to offer the MDC, which won the March parliamentary elections, only minor government ministries.

He said despite the economic crisis, including runaway inflation, Mr. Mugabe has been able to funnel money to key allies and maintain their support, and that getting him to yield powers will not be easy.

"He has made it clear that he is not easily going to give up power here in Zimbabwe," said McGee. "SADC, the Southern African Development Community, clearly came out with statements saying that there should be a unity government, there should be power-sharing, and Mugabe has pretty much said that Morgan Tsvangirai would never sit in a government here in Zimbabwe with any true power."

The U.S. ambassador said that through the shrewd use of patronage Mr. Mugabe's grip on power may be stronger than it was a year ago.

But he nonetheless insisted that international sanctions targeted against the longtime president, family members and close associates, have had real impact. He made clear the Bush administration is ready to move on further sanctions in the absence of a political breakthrough.

"We have additional sanctions that we are prepared to roll out, if this political impasse continues," said McGee. "Right now we continue to look carefully at what is going on here in the country. And we feel that unless something does happen in the very, very near future we have no choice but to become more, difficult, tougher, on our sanctions."

The U.S. envoy said there will no reductions in the U.S. humanitarian aid program to Zimbabwe, which is well in excess of $200 million a year.

McGee credited Harare authorities with easing financial and travel curbs on non-governmental organizations trying to distribute aid in the countryside, but said he was alarmed by conditions he observed firsthand on a recent motor trip to Harare from South Africa.

"It is grim," he said. "It is very, very grim. There are a lot of people standing around, doing absolutely nothing. There are a lot of distended bellies out there among small children. A lot of people picking non-nutritious foods from trees, trying to find anything to eat. When you pass through villages, it is a total look of hopelessness on the peoples' faces there."

McGee said with a political settlement, Zimbabwe's economic rebound could be rapid, given the natural wealth that made it a significant food exporter in past years.