THE United States government has, for the first time, admitted that the illegal sanctions it imposed on Zimbabwe were hurting ordinary people and the economy.
Incoming US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr David Bruce Wharton made the admission yesterday at a media roundtable discussion in
Harare and pledged to work with authorities in Zimbabwe and the US to normalise relations.
The admission comes after the World Diamond Council said it was also engaging the US government and the European Union to lift sanctions they imposed on Marange diamonds, despite Zimbabwe having received the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme nod to export the gems.
Speaking in Victoria Falls this week during the inaugural Zimbabwe Diamond Conference, president of the WDC, Mr Eli Izhakoff, said the scrapping of the embargoes was the only way the KP's integrity would be preserved.
So far, firms wishing to buy Marange diamonds have lost US$30 million which was intercepted by the US Treasury's Office for Foreign Assets Control.
Said Mr Wharton: "Sanctions do harm. I do not dismiss or diminish the importance of sanctions, that is why I am so eager to work with the people of Zimbabwe, with the Government of Zimbabwe and with the people back in Washington so that we move beyond sanctions to return us to a normal bilateral relationship which I believe will be to the benefit of both countries.
"I think that sanctions do depress the value of Zimbabwe's diamonds, I don't know (by) how much," he said.
"I have seen a lot of very different numbers about the effects of sanctions on the revenues from Zimbabwe's diamond industry, but I think there is some effect, a negative effect."
Over the years, successive US ambassadors have denied that sanctions were hurting ordinary people, arguing that they were targeted at a few individuals and entities they are accusing of undermining the rule of law.
Mr Wharton, who presented his credentials to President Mugabe on Thursday, said he intended to bring high-level officials from his government to assess the situation on the ground.
"That is my goal (to normalise relations) it is not something I can do alone. I have to work with my colleagues in Washington. There are people of various opinions in Washington and I need to work very closely with the Government of Zimbabwe and people of Zimbabwe in order to paint an accurate, clear and confidence-building picture of Zimbabwe so that we can move beyond sanctions," Mr Wharton said.
He added: "It is important, though this is my own ambition, to bring high-level American leaders -- political leaders --- to Zimbabwe. I think it is important; the more people from Washington (who) come here and see what is going on, the better.
"I will certainly suggest to the White House that Zimbabwe would welcome (US) President (Barack) Obama, but that decision will rest in Washington but I know I can get some important American leaders here," Ambassador Wharton said.
He, however, said it was important that Zimbabwe implemented the Global Political Agreement in its entirety and also respected the values of the liberation struggle.
The US envoy, who once worked at the US Embassy between 1990 and 2003 in the public affairs section, said he would not use his past experiences on assessing the situation in Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, on the diamonds sanctions, the WDC president Mr Izhakoff said; "Zimbabwe's diamonds should be allowed to be exported without restrictions. I want to engage the United States of America Treasury Department and the European Union to lift some sanctions imposed on diamonds from Zimbabwe. When I go back I want to convince my board of directors to allow me to do that," he said.
Zimbabwe has attained the KP full membership after being certified to sell Marange diamonds after fulfilling the body's requirements.
Mr Izhakoff commented after Minister Mpofu and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chairman Mr Goodwills Masimirembwa gave some incisive presentations that convinced all the delegates on the need to have the embargoes scrapped.
The US government is taking advantage of the fact that all money wired to any country or organisation the world over in US dollars passes through its Treasury Department and OFAC makes sure money is not sent to Zimbabwe.
The ZMDC and the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe are targets of the OFAC sanctions because they are Zimbabwe Government's investment arms.
The ZMDC has shares in all companies mining diamonds in Marange.
The delegates attending the diamonds conference held under the theme; "Unlocking Zimbabwe's Diamonds Together," were unanimous that it was suicidal for the KP not allow a country that had almost two million hectares infested with rough diamonds not to sell the gems.
According to experts the country had potential to produce between 110 and 160 million carats per year, about 20 to 25 percent of the world's diamond output.
Delegates were unanimous that Zimbabwe was going to receive fair treatment from the KP when South Africa assumes the chairmanship of the gems regulatory body next year.
The Zimbabwe diamonds are likely to dominate debate during the KP intercessory meeting in the United States this year.