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Zimbabwe Prime Minister Looking for Aid in US

On the eve of Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's White House meeting with President Obama, Zimbabwe is hopeful it will benefit from new aid programs being reviewed by the United States.

Words offered some hope yesterday when State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that the United States is busy with a broad-based review of aid programs which includes Zimbabwe.

At his meeting on Friday, Mr. Tsvangirai is expected to ask President Obama for aid to be increased beyond the humanitarian sector to include developmental assistance.

Like other western countries, the United States has made it clear that it would like to see more reforms from Zimbabwe's unity government particularly in areas of the rule of law, respect for human rights and media freedom before offering anything other than humanitarian assistance.

In March western countries were feeding seven million people, or nearly two-thirds of the Zimbabwe population.

To assist in local food production, Mr. Tsvangirai is likely to restate an earlier request by Finance Minister Tendai Biti to lift all U.S. restrictions on two Zimbabwe banks, ZimBank and Agribank. Small scale and communal farmers depend on these two banks to finance their crops.

For his part, Mr. Obama is expected to raise U.S. concerns with Mr. Tsvangirai. These include the continued harassment of Mr. Mugabe's opponents, political activists and the media; ongoing farm invasions, and the frequent disregard by police of court decisions.

When Mr. Tsvangirai went to The Netherlands this week asking for development aid in addition to humanitarian assistance, he was told that until there are more political reforms there can be no increased aid.

Like the U.S., The Netherlands wants to see President Mugabe live up to the commitments he made when he signed a global political agreement with Mr. Tsvangirai last September. The agreement led to the formation of the unity government in February.

Among other commitments he is ignoring, Mr. Mugabe has steadfastly refused to redistribute of some senior civil service posts to the factions of the Movement for Democratic Change led by Mr. Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

Western diplomats in Harare say that although there has been some progress there are too many outstanding breaches of the political agreement for any real change in aid patterns to Zimbabwe.

They add that even if further reforms take place, personal travel bans are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, or until free and fair elections are held at the end of the two year life span of the inclusive government. Those affected include most of the ZANU-PF hierarchy and a handful of businessmen.

The economy collapsed after 2000 when Mr. Mugabe seized most commercial farms and Zimbabwe lost 40 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from agricultural exports.