The president of South Africa's ruling African National Congress Party (ANC) is calling on Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and the main opposition to consider the plight of the poor ahead of Monday's meeting to resolve the ongoing political impasse. Jacob Zuma says ordinary Zimbabweans are suffering due to the country's economic meltdown, adding that it behooves the leadership to compromise on finding a lasting solution to a power-sharing government.

Zuma reportedly discussed the Zimbabwe crisis with US President George Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley in meetings at the White House this week. The Zimbabwe power-sharing agreement signed last month between the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) aims to form a unity government to resolve the country's problems.

In Washington, Zuma told reporter Peter Clottey that there is still hope for a resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis.

"I think there is a process in Zimbabwe that is taking place. As you know, that having gone through a trying kind of situation with regards to the election, finally there were negotiations that were mediated by the former President Thabo Mbeki, finally agreed to have an arrangement that stipulates the power-sharing kind of arrangement," Zuma pointed out.

He said there have been challenges in implementing the power-sharing agreement.

"Of course there are problems that while the power-sharing agreement is on the table, they've got difficulties in implementing it, probably because they are not agreeing on some final points. Now, the process is on to try to do that in solving the problem, and I have been informed that on Monday, there would be a meeting in Zimbabwe that was organized by the troika of SADC (Southern African Development Community) to try to bring this matter to a close. The indication is that they are very close to clinching a deal. We are hoping that would happen," he said.

Zuma said there is need to encourage both the ruling and opposition parties to find a common ground.

"The point that we have been making to the Zimbabweans is that it is important that the leadership in Zimbabwe must take into account the plight of the poor people who have suffered so much," Zuma noted.

He said as an outsider, it would not be appropriate to dictate to the stakeholders on what to do in the negotiations.

"I cannot spell out the details of what people should do because I'm not the party involved. I'm not even mediating to say, look, from my point of view this is what I think you should do. The appeal I'm making is that they should be determined, not only the leaders, but also their parties, that compromises should be made for the sake of Zimbabweans. How that is done as a detail is, I think, a matter that is for the Zimbabweans. I can't dictate to them and say do this and don't do that. It is not easy to do so," he said.

Zuma said Zimbabwe's leadership should take the plight of the suffering masses into consideration in the negotiations.

"I think what we can do is just to remind our brothers and sisters that, look, Zimbabweans in the meantime are suffering. Their suffering could only be relieved by them, and it is their responsibility as the leaders to ensure that they instill confidence to the Zimbabweans, even to their own leadership," Zuma pointed out.

He said the demand by the opposition MDC calling for a fresh election supervised by the international community if the power sharing agreement fails is not the best solution to the Zimbabwe crisis.

"I don't think when the Zimbabwe tension is so high, you could go back to elections. It would end up with same results of violence. I think what we need at the moment is power sharing. Power sharing is important because it begins to deal with that tension. It begins to dissolve, and it begins to make the Zimbabweans learn how to work together so that by the next election, we don't have the tension. That option of going to election right now, I think, would worsen the problem of violence, and I don't think that is an option," he said.

Meanwhile, the United States Monday threatened to impose new sanctions against Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his supporters if he reneges on the September 15 power-sharing deal with MDC opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zuma reportedly said South Africa strongly supports SADC's efforts and the ANC is engaging both Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the MDC.