Still setting his own stamp on foreign policy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has taken if anything a tougher line on Zimbabwe than his predecessor, saying he will not attend a European-African summit in December if President Robert Mugabe is there.
Diplomatic sources said African states are divided on the question. Some, led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, insist Mr. Mugabe is entitled to attend. Others, however, are more privately urging Harare to send some senior official other than the president - a face-saving solution favored by a number of European nations.
Portugal, which now holds the EU’s rotating presidency and will be host of the summit, has high hopes for the gathering, which was scuttled in 2003 when African nations threatened to boycott the event over Western moves to exclude Mr. Mugabe.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon told Britain’s House of Lords last week that Mr Brown had reached out to Mr. Mbeki and leaders of five other states in the region to discuss the case for reform in Zimbabwe. Harare had been hoping that British policy would soften following Mr. Brown's succession to Tony Blair, prime minister for a decade.
Zimbabwe’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Boniface Chidyausiku, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Brown is free not to attend the summit - but that he should leave others to make up their own minds.
Chidyausiku said Harare will not send a compromise delegate to the summit.
Researcher Chris Maroleng of South Africa's Institute for Security Studies said that it had always been clear that Mr Brown would maintain British policy continuity.
International Crisis Group Senior Political Analyst Sydney Masamvu said from Pretoria that Harare must halt human rights abuses if it wants to improve ties with Britain.