Obama nominee lays out path forward for lifting sanctions on Zimbabwe

Wharton went on to question the ruling party's contention that the sanctions hurt ordinary people. He said the country has seen healthy growth over the past three years despite sanctions aimed at about 120 individuals and 70 entities.

“One of the problems with sanctions, which I'm sure you're aware of, is that they have turned into talking points for the ruling party in Zimbabwe,” Wharton told the panel. “I don't think though that the evidence supports the thesis that American sanctions have hurt Zimbabwe's economy.”

In his written testimony to Congress, Wharton said the United States isn't seeking to dislodge Mugabe, a strongman who has been in power since its independence 32 years ago, but wanted to ensure a fair election after allegations of violence after his opponent took the lead in the 2008 election.

“U.S. policy in Zimbabwe is not about regime change,” Wharton said. “Only the people of  Zimbabwe have the right to change their government. Our policies support principles, not parties or people.

“However, when the right to self-determination is denied, as it has been in Zimbabwe through restrictions on citizen rights, through political violence, and fraudulent and mismanaged elections, the United States cannot stand idly by. We have taken principled steps to demonstrate our concern about the actions of those responsible for, and those who profit from, miscarriages of the promise Zimbabwe offered at independence. We will always stand up for the rights of Zimbabweans to speak, write, read, meet, organize, and fully participate in their nation’s political processes.”