President Bush called Saturday for an international arms embargo against Zimbabwe in the wake of what he called a “sham election.” He announced that the U.S. is drafting new economic sanctions that would target the entire government of President Robert Mugabe.
“The international community has condemned the Mugabe regime's ruthless campaign of politically motivated violence and intimidation,” Bush said in a statement from Camp David, Md., adding that he had directed his secretaries of treasury and state to develop sanctions “against this illegitimate government of Zimbabwe and those who support it.”
The announcement came a day after Zimbabweans voted in a presidential runoff that has been widely denounced by Western leaders because of state-sponsored violence and widespread efforts to intimidate voters with threats of beatings if they failed to cast their ballots for Mugabe, the sole candidate.
The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out of the race, citing continuing attacks against his supporters, and he later sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy.
The call for an arms embargo, which Bush coupled with a proposed ban on travel by officials of the Mugabe government, is unlikely to be successful. U.S. officials said it would almost certainly run into opposition at the U.N. from South Africa, Russia and China; South Africa's position has long been that the Zimbabwe election is an internal affair.
The United States' own sanctions, by contrast, can be carried out unilaterally. American officials and outside experts said the plan is to put pressure on Zimbabwe's gold and platinum mining industry, a crucial source of foreign exchange for a government that is very short of it.
By taking the rare step of imposing sanctions on the entire government, the U.S. would put Zimbabwe in a league with nations like North Korea and Iran – a significant expansion of current policy.
Saturday's announcement was, in effect, a threat from the White House, where officials said the sanctions could still be averted if Mugabe installs what the United States considers a legitimate government. Tsvangirai actually drew more votes in the general election in March, winning 48 percent of the vote to Mugabe's 43 percent. The runoff was called because neither had a majority.
“We don't have a government in Zimbabwe that reflects the will of the people; the pressure has to be ratcheted up,” said Gordon Johndroe, a deputy White House press secretary and spokesman for Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. “What a tragedy this is. Zimbabwe, which used to be such a great African success story, has been run into the ground.”