UNITED NATIONS — The United States began rallying the U.N. Security Council on Monday to impose sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his close supporters if he doesn't reconsider his disputed claim on Zimbabwe's highest office.
The U.S. circulated a draft resolution asking the Security Council to reject Mugabe's claim of victory in the election Friday in which he was the sole candidate, to freeze the assets and bar travel of officials responsible for election violence, and to halt arms shipments to Zimbabwe.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, challenged Security Council members to reject Mugabe's power grab and "stop allowing him to thumb his nose at the Security Council." The draft resolution depicts the flow of people fleeing Zimbabwe's violence and hunger into neighboring nations as a regional security issue, not just an internal election matter.
"It not only affects the region, but the credibility of the council," Khalilzad said. "If there is no response, what does that say about the council?"
Amid resistance from China and others, council diplomats hoped that African leaders meeting in Egypt this week would persuade Mugabe to compromise and that sanctions would not be necessary.
China, Russia, South Africa and other council members said they were reluctant to intervene in Zimbabwe's domestic affairs.
"This is an African problem," Chinese Deputy Ambassador Liu Zhenmin told reporters.
British Ambassador John Sawers said that if African Union members at the Egypt conference did not persuade Mugabe to negotiate with the opposition, Britain would strengthen its sanctions against Zimbabwe and urge the European Union to join it. Britain already has travel and investment bans on the top 130 officials in Mugabe's regime.
The U.S., Australia and Canada also have imposed measures against Zimbabwe, intended to pressure its leaders but not its people, who are already suffering from skyrocketing prices and the government's suspension of international aid.
Mugabe flew Monday to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik to see whether his fellow African leaders would confirm or condemn his election victory.
Speaking at the opening of a two-day African Union summit, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said the world must "stand by the people of Zimbabwe who are facing an extremely grim crisis. This is the single greatest challenge to regional stability in southern Africa."
She said Zimbabwe rebuffed the international community by holding a runoff that was "not conducive to credible free and fair elections because of the violence and intimidation that prevailed." She added that the unrest and pressure against Mugabe's opposition were setting a "dangerous political precedent."
Migiro called for talks between Zimbabwe's leading political parties that would be backed by the 53-nation union.
"This is a moment of truth for regional leaders," she said. "The secretary-general urges your excellencies to mobilize support for a negotiated solution."
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, speaking in his nation's capital, Nairobi, urged the African Union to suspend Mugabe until he allows "a free and fair" election. But at the AU meeting, other regional leaders' criticism was muted. The South African government Monday called for Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to negotiate on a transitional government.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, one of Zimbabwe's toughest critics in southern Africa, collapsed with chest pains at the summit and was taken to a hospital.
The summit ends today, when the union is expected to issue a statement on Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, opposition leader and presidential challenger Morgan Tsvangirai moved out of the Dutch Embassy, where he had sought refuge for security reasons last week, as his party called for an AU mediator to help negotiate a transitional arrangement with Mugabe's party.
African Union election observers on Monday declared the runoff undemocratic, the third group of African monitors to condemn the poll. Western observers were barred from the election by the Mugabe regime, and few foreign journalists managed to get accreditation.
"The vote fell short of the African Union's standards of democratic elections," the AU observer statement said.
Representatives on the sidelines of the Sharm el Sheik summit were pressing the AU to reject Mugabe's victory in the runoff and accept the results of the first-round election March 29 as the basis for negotiations on a transitional government.
In the March vote, Tsvangirai won about 48% to Mugabe's 43%, according to official figures. But Tsvangirai dropped out of the runoff, citing extensive violence against his followers by ruling party supporters.
ZANU-PF members partied at Mugabe's State House residence until 2:30 a.m. Monday after Sunday evening's hasty inauguration, while the state-owned Herald greeted the declaration of Mugabe's victory with the banner headline, "It's a landslide!"
The government on Monday opened the first of its communist-style "People's Shops," one of its key election promises. Bars of soap, cooking oil and other necessities were available for a fraction of the market price, with soap selling for 2 billion Zimbabwean dollars, less than 10 cents.
But the economy appears headed for a crunch in the coming week after the German government ordered the firm Giesecke & Devrient to stop exporting money or paper for money printing to Zimbabwe. The firm had supplied about half of Zimbabwe's currency.
Times staff writer Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo and a Times staff writer in Harare contributed to this report.