President Bush to formally sign off within the next few days on an initial set of election-related sanctions barring U.S. travel by Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle.
The United States, following the lead of the European Union, is moving to impose travel sanctions against Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his closest aides. The move follows the Harare government's expulsion of the head of the EU's election observer team. Tougher U.S. action could follow, if next month's presidential election in Zimbabwe is not free and fair.
The Bush administration has been closely coordinating its Zimbabwe policy with the European Union. And officials here say they expect President Bush to formally sign off within the next few days on an initial set of election-related sanctions barring U.S. travel by Mr. Mugabe and his inner circle.
An act of Congress, approved by overwhelming margins in both the Senate and House last year, also provides for a freeze on U.S. financial assets of the Zimbabwe leadership and would authorize the administration to oppose loans to Zimbabwe in international lending institutions.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a decision on further action will await an administration assessment of the elections themselves, to be held March 9 and 10. "We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about all the developments in Zimbabwe," he explained. "Now the question of whether we further extend what we might do initially as I said we are moving forward on the travel sanctions that question will be decided as we move down the road, and obviously the presidential election would have a major bearing on whether we decide to impose additional sanctions."
Mr. Boucher said the Bush administration strongly supported the sanctions move by European Union foreign ministers, who at a Monday meeting in Brussels also announced the recall of the rest of the EU monitoring team.
The spokesman said the imposition of further U.S. sanctions is not inevitable. But he said that given a climate of political violence and intimidation, restrictions on the media - and now the denial of access for foreign observers - the chances of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe "continue to go down."
The Bush administration had expressed its concern about the situation in Zimbabwe in repeated public statements and in diplomat contacts, including visits to Harare in recent weeks by two senior envoys, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner and the department's chief human rights official, Lorne Craner.
The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act from Congress, signed into law by President Bush two months ago, aims at promoting democratic change in the African country through a mix of punitive measures and incentives.
In addition to sanctions, it authorizes on certification of progress by the president - more than $25 million in U.S. aid to Zimbabwe for land reform and democracy-building, and expresses a U.S. commitment to reschedule or eliminate Zimbabwe's billion-dollar debt to the World Bank and other international lending agencies.