Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai met Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who in comments to reporters before their conversation appeared to add some nuance to the well-established American position that Washington will not directly fund the operations of the Harare government without seeing broad and deep reforms.
Mr. Tsvangirai is scheduled to meet Friday with President Barack Obama.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said early this week that no major aid could be expected until the Harare government as a whole institutes significant reforms on human rights and the rule of law, and ends harassment of political and civic activists, seemingly underscoring the humanitarian-only aid policy that has been in place for months.
Clinton told Mr. Tsvangirai after praising him as a "longtime advocate" of human rights and economic opportunity that she was "anxious to hear about the plans and the work that your government is undertaking and to look for ways that we appropriately can be supportive."
Her choice of the modifier "appropriately" reflected the dilemma facing U.S. officials who want to support Mr. Tsvangirai and the reform-minded program of his Movement for Democratic Change, but who do not under any circumstances want to see the injection of American development funds bolster his governing partner, President Robert Mugabe.
Following bitterly contested elections in 2008 which opened several months of deadly political violence, Mr. Tsvangirai and Mr. Mugabe along with rival MDC formation leader Arthur Mutambara signed a power-sharing pact and formed a government in February.
The Zimbabwean prime minister met later on Capitol Hill with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee whose Africa subcommittee chairman, Donald Payne, a Democrat, has been advocating increased American assistance to Zimbabwe.
"We do see some progress being made," Payne told VOA following that session.
"Much more has to be done. We're not certainly ready to remove any sanctions or anything like that, however we are going to explore ways that we can get assistance to the people of Zimbabwe" targeting the agricultural sector and the educational system.
"But we will be watching closely, we will be having guidelines and roadmarks to see whether the ZANU-PF government is cooperating with MDC in a real collaborative spirit," he said.
Mr. Tsvangirai also met with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who in 2001 co-sponsored the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act restricting U.S. support for aid to the country by any international financial institution until democracy and the rule of law should be restored.
In a statement, Feingold "reaffirmed our country's commitment to providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe and new resources for critical services like education, health, water and sanitation." But, he said, "I was clear with (Tsvangirai) that the United States will continue to maintain our targeted sanctions and restrictions on direct assistance to the government until we see real progress toward restoration of the rule of law, civilian control over a disciplined security force and respect for human rights."
In a speech and news briefing Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Tsvangirai said there could be serious consequences if his government is unable to reinvigorate the economy, making the case for the United States to provide transitional funding.
The alternative, if the government failed for lack of funds, could be “ghastly,” he said.
In an interview with reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe this week, Mr. Tsvangirai described his approach to the U.S. government as a dynamic process.
For interpretation of Clinton’s comments Thursday and analysis of where Mr. Tsvangirai’s quest for funds goes from here, reporter Patience Rusere turned to two political analysts: Resident Fellow Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy in Washington, and independent analyst Bekhithemba Mhlanga in London.
Bate noted that Mr. Tsvangirai has been cordially received in Washington, but cautioned that whatever aid the United States may provide will come with strings attached.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...