The United States says it will keep in place targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe imposed more than a decade ago.
Shannon Smith, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told VOA's Zimbabwe service after a recent trip to the country that the United States was sticking to its wait-and-see strategy regarding the possible lifting of travel bans and other sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his leadership. She noted that the sanctions were "very targeted."
"The U.S. sanctions are aimed at fewer than 200 individuals and institutions in Zimbabwe, in a nation of over 13 million people," Smith said.
Smith said the Untied States did not feel pressured to change its policy by the European Union's decision last year to lift a visa ban and assets freeze against members of Zimbabwe's ruling elite, with the exception of Mugabe and his wife, Grace.
"We don't feel pressured. The European Union obviously makes its own policy choices. We continue to share with them the same fundamental goals of seeing a freer, democratic Zimbabwe that adheres to the rule of law and other standards," Smith said.
She also said the targeted U.S. sanctions were not the cause of Zimbabwe's economic decline.
Rare U.S. visit
Smith traveled to Zimbabwe this month with Steven Feldstein, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor — a rare trip in recent years because of frosty Washington-Harare relations.
The two met with government and opposition officials and discussed issues including governance, democracy and human rights.
Before the visit, Zimbabwe's Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Joey Bimha said Harare wanted to re-engage with Washington.
The United States, along with many other Western countries, imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe's leadership in 2002 following reports of election rigging and human rights abuses. Despite the sanctions, the United States remains one of the major providers of humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has endured political turmoil and weak economic growth since the early 2000s. The government angered donors with a series of controversial moves, including the alleged rigging of the 2002 elections and the confiscation of commercial farms owned by whites.
Mugabe blames U.S.
Mugabe has for years has used every opportunity to criticize Washington over the sanctions, saying they have been responsible for his country's economic woes and aimed at inciting Zimbabweans to overthrow the government.
A spokesman for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Obert Gutu, praised Washington for keeping the sanctions in place.
“We are not at all surprised that the Obama administration says that the Mugabe regime has not changed," Gutu said. "In fact, this is typical of the Mugabe regime. The leopard never changes its spots, and we are perfectly happy with the decision and the position taken by the Obama administration.”
Those comments were echoed by the advocacy director of the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Center, Jeff Smith, who said Zimbabwe's human rights record has not improved.
“I think actually it's a wise decision by the U.S. government to not change their policy," he said. "I think for a long time now, U.S. government officials have said it's going to be an action-for-action policy, whereby the only instance our policy toward Zimbabwe would fundamentally change is if the government in Harare made positive improvements on issues related to human rights and good governance and respect for political rights."