The United States agreed to a compromise allowing Zimbabwe to export diamonds that human rights groups say are tainted by abuses, to prevent the paralysis of the global system for stopping trade in blood diamonds, the State Department said on Wednesday.
The United States, Canada and the European Union dropped their objections and agreed to allow Zimbabwe to sell diamonds from its Marange field after verification by a Kimberley Process monitoring team, the World Diamond Council announced on Tuesday.
The Kimberly Process is an international government certification scheme set up in 2003 to prevent the trade in diamonds that fund conflicts.
The decision by the United States, Canada and the EU was strongly condemned by human rights groups who maintain that the Marange diamonds are tainted by abuses tied to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States abstained from Tuesday's vote, but chose not to block the measure, which she said still included provisions for oversight and reporting by civil society groups.
We think this compromise might have been stronger and that's why we abstained, Nuland told a news briefing. So we judge that rather than having the entire Kimberley process deadlocked over Zimbabwe we would abstain, we would let this go forward.
Under the agreement the Kimberley Process, which certifies that revenues from diamond sales will not fund conflicts, will send two monitors to Zimbabwe in the next two weeks to assess and certify the diamonds.
Rights groups say there have been abuses in Zimbabwe against illegal miners, smuggling is rife and some mines in Marange remain in the hands of Zimbabwe's military. Mugabe's government denies all these charges.
Last year, Zimbabwe was allowed by the Kimberley Process to sell a small amount of diamonds, but the United States, Canada and EU said then that human rights issues still remained.
Zimbabwe's state-owned Herald newspaper reported earlier that the United States was likely to drop its objections to the sale of Marange diamonds in return for support from African members for its bid to chair the Kimberley Process in 2012.
Nuland noted that the U.S. maintains its own sanctions on Zimbabwe officials and government agencies including the parastatal organization that oversees Marange diamond exports, meaning no U.S. citizen could be involved in the trade.
She also said the onus was now on Mugabe's government to live up to its commitments under the Kimberley Process compromise.
Previously we had no ability to affect Zimbabwe's behavior. With this compromise ... we do have some eyes on this process, we have reporting requirements, we have civil society there which was a better situation than we've had in the past, she said.
So we need to test it now and we need to see if the Mugabe government does indeed meet the commitments that it signed up to.