The president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, has announced that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has agreed to formal talks with opposition parties aimed at ending the political crises in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mbeki made the announcement after a meeting in Pretoria with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Mr. Mbeki says President Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangerai agreed to formal talks when he met them in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, last month.

"I was in Zimbabwe in December. Talked both [to] leaders of the ruling party and the opposition and they have agreed that they will now go into formal negotiations," he said.

Mr. Mbeki says the process was disrupted by the holiday season, but that he expects the process will now get under way.

The South African leader was responding to a comment by Chancellor Schroeder that in a lengthy exchange with Mr. Mbeki on Zimbabwe he had made it clear that Mr. Mugabe's regime is unacceptable.

Mr. Mbeki did not say whether any preconditions to talks had been set by either Mr. Mugabe or Mr. Tsvangerai. In the past, Mr. Mugabe has said that Mr. Tsvangerai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, should drop its legal challenge to the presidential election in 2002 before talks could begin.

Commenting on criticism of his policy of so-called quiet diplomacy toward Zimbabwe, Mr. Mbeki said, in his words, strong statements cannot be an aim in themselves. He noted that on at least two visits to Zimbabwe he had publicly told Mr. Mugabe that what he was doing was wrong.

Mr. Mbeki said it is Zimbabweans themselves who must find ways to solve their problems and that the real challenge in that country is to create economic and political order.

He added that when Zimbabweans find a way to change their society, they will seek help and support from the international community.

Chancellor Schroeder said Germany could not play an active role in solving Zimbabwe's problems. But he said that once a process of democratic change had begun, Germany would be able to help Zimbabwe gain access to resources to assist its economic recovery.