U.S. diplomats are pressing China and several African governments to prevent the delivery of a shipload of Chinese weapons to Zimbabwe, where political tensions are high after disputed elections. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department a senior U.S. envoy is heading for southern Africa to discuss the Zimbabwe situation.
State Department officials acknowledge there is nothing illegal about China's arms sales to Zimbabwe, a long-time recipient of Chinese military hardware.
But they say that given the volatile situation in Zimbabwe, where some instances of post-election violence have been reported, this is not the time to be increasing the number of weapons and armaments available in that country.
In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the United States has raised the issue of the Chinese ship with the Beijing government, and countries in the region where the weapons might be off-loaded for shipment to land-locked Zimbabwe - including South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola.
The Chinese ship had to leave the South African port of Durban late last week after union dockworkers refused to unload it, and Spokesman Casey said U.S. officials are pleased by the broader response in the region to appeals to keep additional armaments out of Zimbabwe:
"Right now clearly is not the time that we would want to see anyone putting additional weapons, or additional material, into this system when the situation is so unsettled and when we have seen real and visible instances of abuses committed by the security forces as a result of the instability caused by the situation in that country," said Tom Casey.
The spokesman said administration officials are encouraged by the latest statement on the issue from Beijing where a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman - while defending the arms shipment as normal military trade - said China was considering recalling the vessel.
Casey said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer is traveling to southern Africa this week for a previously-scheduled talks in South Africa, Zambia and Angola that would now have a heavy focus on Zimbabwe.
The United States has been urging Zimbabwe's neighboring states to use more leverage on the government of President Robert Mugabe to release official results from the March 29 presidential elections, and to respect the verdict of the voters.
Tabulations by non-government groups showed opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangerai defeating Mr. Mugabe, perhaps with the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off.
Asked if the United States agrees with an assertion Monday by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who said Harare authorities are trying to steal the election. Spokesman Casey said it is pretty hard to argue at this point that the Mugabe government intends to provide a factual account of what happened on election day.