LONDON - President Barack Obama wants a fresh approach to toppling Robert Mugabe and is discussing with aides an unprecedented, US-led diplomatic push to get tough, new UN sanctions imposed against the Zimbabwe regime, The Times has learned.
During talks Obama has had with his top Africa advisers in recent weeks, the central idea they focused on was taking the issue of Zimbabwe before the UN Security Council, but for the first time to combine such a move with an intense diplomatic effort to persuade Russia and China not to block the initiative.
The goal would be to pass a series of "strong" sanctions, including a ban on arms sales and foreign investment. They also want to expand significantly the number of ruling Zanu-PF party officials subject to sanctions.
Last July, after Mugabe was accused of rigging the elections to stay in power, China and Russia, who have significant financial interests in Zimbabwe, vetoed moves to impose UN sanctions. Obama and his aides believe that, with the growing international outcry over conditions there and the devastating loss of life from the cholera outbreak, Beijing and Moscow can now be persuaded to abstain when the issue of sanctions comes to another vote.
"It is predicated on China and Russia going along and this administration will certainly undertake a new round of constructive diplomacy with Russia and China on a whole range of options," the aide told The Times.
"It will depend on an arc of Obama diplomacy in the coming months."
Pressure on China and Russia will also be coordinated with Britain and France at the UN. "To get even an abstention would be a tremendous victory," the aide said.
A key figure in any new approach will be Susan Rice, Obama's UN ambassador, who was assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration and is a Zimbabwe expert.
"Susan feels very strongly that there is a tremendous miscarriage of justice in that country and that it has to end," the aide said.
During her Senate confirmation hearings, Rice said the US would take a leading role at the UN in tackling the "thorny challenges of peacekeeping in Darfur and Congo and the autocracy in Zimbabwe".
Obama and Rice are also understood to be anxious that Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition MDC, does not agree to a power-sharing deal with Mugabe.
They and other Western diplomats were encouraged by the collapse of Zimbabwe talks that regional leaders had convened to make progress on the main issues blocking the formation of a unity government. Tsvangirai was offered the option of sharing with Mugabe, but the opposition leader refused to accept because he was not given control over the Zimbabwean police - the main tool of oppression in the country. - Timesonline