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US Congressional Delegation Meets Zimbabwe Leadership, Advances Re-Engagement

Finance Minister Tendai Biti told reporters that he hoped the U.S. congressional delegation would recommend amendments to the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic and Recovery Act, the basis for sanctions

Members of a US congressional delegation met Thursday with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Finance Minister Tendai Biti to discuss progress in fully implementing the September 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing and on reforms by the Harare unity government.

After meeting the US lawmakers, Biti, also secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Tsvangirai, said he hoped Washington would continue to re-engage with Zimbabwe.

He told reporters in a news conference that he hoped the delegation members would recommend amendments to the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic and Recovery Act, which is the basis for U.S. travel and financial sanctions targeting Mr. Mugabe and about 200 top officials of his ZANU-PF party.

Biti noted the declared U.S. position of not objecting to the restoration of Zimbabwe’s voting rights as a member of the International Monetary Fund, and added that he hoped for help in settling the country's debt arrears so that it may again qualify for loans from such international financial institutions.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, offered an upbeat message on restoring bilateral relations and rebuilding Zimbabwe’s economy.

"We're delighted to be here again," said the African-American legislator, whose delegation was in Harare in September 2009, "and I think that what you will see is more members of the United States Congress coming to visit, coming to engage and coming to work with the people of Zimbabwe so that we can make sure that tomorrow is better than today because we understand that the future is where we should be headed as opposed to just looking back at the past."

Reporters quizzed the finance minister on the state of the unity government and negotiations on the so-called outstanding issues. Biti, chief negotiator for the Tsvangirai MDC formation in intra-governmental talks, said it is time to put the unresolved issues troubling the unity government in the hands of South African President Jacob Zuma and the Southern African Development Community.

"We're going nowhere on the dialogue" with ZANU-PF," Biti said, "and therefore it is very important for President Zuma and South Africa to step in and step in quickly. We as negotiators have reached our ceiling - it should be taken out of our hands because continuing to let us negotiate, we're wasting time."

He said negotiators for the three unity parties have "reached where our own human capabilities can take us as negotiators, therefore we need a bigger brain, that of President Zuma, and more wisdom, that of SADC."

Christopher Mutsvangwa, a member of the ZANU-PF information committee and a former ambassador to China, told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that he sees the visit by the US delegation as a significant development.

Elsewhere, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara said the government was very concerned at the way in which the European Union extended sanctions on President Mugabe and many other ZANU-PF officials without consultations under the so-called EU-Zimbabwean Re-engagement Committee.

The committee includes ministers of the three governing parties and EU envoys to Harare led by Swedish Ambassador Sten Rylander. The Swedish diplomat declined to comment on the sanctions decision taken in Brussels.

Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara told VOA's Blessing Zulu that the European Union displayed arrogance and must remove all sanctions.