Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's former ruling ZANU-PF party has instructed its negotiators in talks on power sharing and the next elections not to engage in discussions on a road map to the next ballot or proposed reform of national security agencies.
ZANU-PF's new stance in talks with its governing partners - the two formations of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change - sets the stage for a clash between Mr. Mugabe and regional leaders including South African President Jacob Zuma, who is mediator for the Southern African Development Community in the Harare talks.
A senior Zuma aide said the ZANU-PF position has not been communicated to Pretoria - but said Mr. Zuma has the capacity to deal with Mr. Mugabe if the issue arises at the SADC special summit on Zimbabwe to be held next month in South Africa.
ZANU-PF hardliners have been pushing for weeks for a tougher stance in the face of pressure from SADC to adopt a road map detailing electoral and other reforms.
Moderates warned this would not be productive, and urged Mr. Mugabe to use diplomacy to counter SADC's increasingly tough position with respect to ZANU-PF.
But following the failure of a ZANU-PF charm offensive and a heavy-handed campaign at a SADC summit held in Namibia late last week, ZANU-PF hardliners are said to have won the day and are now refusing compromise even if it means leaving SADC.
ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that the party is unanimous in rejecting SADC demands for reforms.
Zuma international relations adviser Lindiwe Zulu said her boss is in a position to deal with confrontational situation with President Mugabe if that arises.
Clifford Mashiri, a former Zimbabwean diplomat to Ethiopia, commented that ZANU-PF is misleading itself if it thinks it can shrug off guidance from President Zuma.