The Obama administration on Thursday ruled out an early lifting of U.S. sanctions in Zimbabwe, despite an appeal from the country's new Prime Minister and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The State Department says the country's unity government has not reversed the widely criticized policies of President Robert Mugabe.
The United States provided strong diplomatic support for Mr. Tsvangirai in his struggle against election and human rights abuses when President Mugabe was ruling Zimbabwe virtually single-handedly through his ZANU-PF party.
But it is denying an appeal by the new Prime Minister, in his first policy speech to parliament on Wednesday, for the United States and other western countries to lift sanctions, based on what he said was progress by the unity government, which took office last month.
The United States and European allies began imposing travel and financial sanctions in 2003 targeted at individuals and companies with close links to the autocratic president, who has led Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters Thursday that the Obama administration does not see the lifting of sanctions now as "particularly helpful" because it has not observed any change from the Mugabe side of the coalition.
"We have not seen a release of political prisoners in as large numbers as there should be," said Gordon Duguid. "We remain deeply troubled at ZANU-PF's consistent lack of commitment to the power sharing agreement. And much remains to be done to gain the confidence of the international community. The immediate steps are clear on what they should do - release all political detainees, end politically-directed violence and intimidation, repeal repressive legislation, open access for humanitarian groups and NGOs, and have a commitment to macro-economic reform."
Duguid said the United States recognizes the difficulties Zimbabwe's people face and said they are suffering because the policies of the previous government have not changed.
U.S. officials have said corruption and mismanagement by Mr. Mugabe and his key associates are largely to blame for the country's staggering economic problems and cholera outbreak.
The United States has continued humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe, but it has withheld development and other forms of assistance.
In a statement late Wednesday, President Obama extended sanctions initiated by his predecessor that were due to expire on Friday, saying the crisis generated by those who sought to undermine democratic processes in Zimbabwe has not been resolved.
The Presidential Directive said the sanctions are being extended for another year, although officials here say they could be lifted before that if there is tangible progress on reform.