Clinton "very concerned" by Zimbabwe impasse

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is “very concerned” by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s refusal to reach a power-sharing deal with his opponents and wants South Africa to put more pressure on him, the State Department said on Monday.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe looks on before the start of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit at the presidential guest house in Pretoria, January 26, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Clinton, the former first lady and senator from New York, was “very focused” on the political stalemate in Zimbabwe and was looking at what could be done to ease the crisis.

“We’re very troubled by the fact that the Mugabe regime refuses to negotiate seriously with the opposition,” Wood told reporters.

“Senator Clinton is very focused on this issue. She is very concerned about it. Obviously we are going to be reviewing the situation in southern Africa to see what we can do,” he added.

Zimbabwe’s economy is in ruins with runaway inflation and a cholera epidemic has killed nearly 2,900 people since August.

Regional leaders meeting in South Africa this week have failed so far to get Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to implement a power-sharing deal.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed an agreement in September but cannot agree on control of cabinet posts, with neither side showing any sign of compromise.

Wood urged the SADC (Southern African Development Community) regional bloc, and particularly South Africa, to do more to get both sides to reach an arrangement.

“We have encouraged South Africa to do as much as it can to put pressure on Mugabe to do the right thing. But to date, Mugabe does not seem to have any interest whatsoever in bringing an end to the crisis,” he said.

“The regime has no interest in its own people, it has no interest in trying to bring about good governance and democratic government,” added Wood.

Last Friday, Clinton called South Africa’s foreign minister but Wood had no information about that call or whether Zimbabwe was raised during their conversation.

The Bush administration’s strategy was to increasingly isolate Mugabe by imposing more sanctions on him and other senior officials backing the veteran president, who has been in power since 1980 in Zimbabwe.

Asked whether the Clinton team was planning a new approach to Zimbabwe, Wood said the Obama administration was reviewing the overall situation but declined to give details.

The European Union stepped up pressure on Mugabe on Monday by adding 27 individuals and 36 firms to a sanctions list and calling for a probe into Harare’s diamond industry.

Editing by Anthony Boadle