EU's Ashton to meet Zimbabwe ministers
(BRUSSELS) - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is to meet Thursday with three ministers from Zimbabwe to discuss political reforms but a further easing of sanctions is unlikely, EU officials said Tuesday.
After easing sanctions against Zimbabwe in February, the European Union aims to express "our encouragement of continuing political reforms", said Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann.
The three ministers are from the three main political parties in the coalition government of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
In Harare, EU ambassador Aldo Dell'Ariccia said the talks would be the first step toward restoring relations.
"The meeting or talks should help define the next steps in order to normalise relations between the European Union and Zimbabwe," Dell'Ariccia told a news conference.
"It's a first opportunity after a long time of non-communication, to broaden the common understanding that we have on the process, to build the necessary confidence to move forward."
Zimbabwe state media last weekend quoted one of the three visiting ministers -- Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa from Mugabe's ZANU-PF -- as saying the ministers hoped the talks would lead to the unconditional removal of remaining EU sanctions.
But a senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "progress on political reform has continued in the right direction, but is fairly slow".
"The talks will give us an opportunity to say what we are looking for and them to say what they are planning," the official added.
Dell'Ariccia echoed the sentiment.
"It's not an arrival point. It is a starting point of new engagement, a new dialogue with Zimbabwe," he said.
The other two ministers travelling to Brussels are Energy Minister Elton Mangoma from Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, Regional Integration Minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga from an MDC breakaway faction.
In February, the 27-nation EU removed a visa ban and asset freeze on 51 of 150 people targeted by the restrictive measures and 20 of 30 companies under EU sanctions imposed in 2002.
It maintained sanctions against Mugabe, who is 88 and has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980. After failed elections in 2008, he was forced into a power-sharing government with his rival Tsvangirai, a move meant to clear the way to new polls.
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