UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council failed to agree on declaring Zimbabwe's runoff election illegitimate Friday in the face of South African opposition, merely issuing an oral statement of regret. US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, the council chair this month, told reporters after a contentious, hours-long debate, that members "agreed that conditions for free and fair elections did not exist and it was a matter of deep regret that the election went ahead in these circumstances." The United States and its European allies had pushed for adoption of a non-binding, British-drafted statement that would have stated that the results of Friday's runoff election "could have no credibility or legitimacy." A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aim was to send a strong message to persuade African Union (AU) leaders meeting in Egypt Monday that they need to get tough with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Adoption of the text would have required unanimous approval by all 15 members, but South Africa, backed by Russia and other countries, opposed it. South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, whose country has been trying to mediate an end to the political crisis in Zimbabwe, argued that the Security Council was not in the business of certifying elections. In Zimbabwe, polls closed Friday with Mugabe certain of victory as the sole candidate in a contest that the opposition urged world leaders to reject. The process was denounced as a sham by the United States, the European Union and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, amid claims of forced ballot casting. Speaking in his national capacity, Khalilzad said the US delegation was considering introducing a sanctions resolutions against the Mugabe regime. He said he had "already started discussions with some colleagues on a resolution that would impose sanctions, appropriately focused sanctions on the (Harare) regime assuming conditions continue as they have." Khalilzad said council members did reaffirm a statement they adopted Monday in which they condemned the violence and intimidation against the opposition in Zimbabwe and urged that Friday's runoff vote not be held. They also expected a UN report on regional and international efforts on the crisis, including the upcoming AU meeting in Egypt Monday, and agreed to revisit the issue "in the coming days," he said. His French counterpart, Jean-Maurice Ripert, expressed hope that the AU meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh "will enable to find a solution to the crisis." "If not, France, in liaison with its partners of the European Union, is ready to envisage extra measures in the council, so that Mr Mugabe comes back to reason," he warned. In Sharm El-Sheikh Friday, AU Commission chairman Jean Ping expressed optimism about the situation. "I am convinced a credible solution will be found. Give us the time to talk with our heads of state, with the SADC (the Southern African Development Community)," Ping told a news conference. Tsvangirai won the first round of voting 13 weeks ago with 47.9 percent of votes to Mugabe's 43.2 percent but decided to boycott the second round after deadly attacks against his supporters. The simultaneous March 29 presidential and legislative elections saw Mugabe's ZANU-PF lose control of parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, although the outcome is being challenged in the courts. Mugabe said at his final rally he wants to continue as president, a post he has held uninterrupted since independence. While he would be willing to talk to the opposition, negotiations would begin only after he had won a sixth term.