Sunday, March 6, 2011

US 'diamond envoy' leaves Zim empty-handed

Zimbabwe and most diamond exporting countries have told the United States that they will not support its bid for the vice presidency of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.

The US sent an envoy to Zimbabwe this week to lobby for support in what observers said was a "cheeky" move since Washington has been at the forefront of trying to deny diamonds from Marange KP certification for international trade.

Zimbabwean officials made it clear to visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ms Susan Page that the US could not expect Harare's backing for as long as Washington sabotaged the country's diamond industry.

It is also understood that the US has all but lost out in the race for the KP vice presidency as African diamond producers and several others from outside the continent do not think Washi-ngton can best serve the global diamond trade.

Ms Page left Zimbabwe yesterday and tried to save face by claiming she had only paid a courtesy call on Mines and Mining Development Ministry officials.

Secretary for Mines and Mining Development Mr Thankful Musukutwa however, said Ms Page had canvassed for Zimbabwe's backing at the KP, a grouping of all countries that deal in diamonds.

"From the looks of it, it appears their bid was thrown out. We told them that for us to support them they had to let us trade our diamonds," he said.

Mr Musukutwa said the US was behind a caveat in a KP decision on Zim-babwe's diamonds that made it all but impossible to get certification for gems from Marange.

Clause 3b of that decision says Zimbabwe will be barred from trading if any three countries in the KPCS raise concerns about the human rights situation in Marange.

The US, Canada and Australia - apparently as a matter of political policy - always raise allegations of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Mr Musukutwa said, "We told them we were against clause 3b of the Bru-ssels decision that we now term the ‘violence clause.'

"We rejected that clause and nobody has come back to us on the issue."

He said Ms Page and her team then tried to claim America had no influence over KPCS affairs.

She reportedly claimed Canada was afraid Zimbabwe would flood the international market and drive down prices.

"I, however, told them that the US held the keys to the door for Zimbabwe to sell its diamonds," Mr Musukutwa said.

Ms Page asked the Mines Permanent Secretary which country Zimbabwe would back for the KPCS vice presidency.

"We told them it was something that had to be discussed at a higher level and that Zimbabwe could also be a contender as well," Mr Musukutwa said.

US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Charles Ray attended the meeting, which also drew representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

During her four-day, visit Ms Page met Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, officials from the Ministry of Finance and activists from Western-funded NGOs.

The US delegation did not meet empowerment groups like the Affirma-tive Action Group that have been fighting for Zimbabwe's right to sell its diamonds.

The pro-Zimbabwe diamonds grou-ps made it clear before Ms Page's visit that they were not interested in listening to her sales pitch for the KPCS vice presidency.

They said her visit was "cheeky" and "contemptuous".

At a Press conference yesterday afternoon, Ms Page repeated the claim that there are no sanctions on Zimba-bwe.

She said she had merely paid "a courtesy call," on Mines Ministry officials and would not elaborate.

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