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SOFT DIPLOMACY IN ZIMBABWE?

The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe vowed to continue denouncing human rights violations in the southern African nation but offered some soothing words to autocratic President Robert Mugabe and his thuggish political party.

“The U.S. does not favor any one party over another in Zimbabwe,” Ambassador Charles A. Ray said in a recent speech. “It is not for the U.S. or any other outsider to dictate or influence who should make up the government.”

“As long as the process is credible and respected, we do not care which party wins,” he added.

Mr. Mugabe, in power since 1980, has rarely held an election recognized as free and fair, and he regularly unleashes mobs against political opponents. In 2009, however, he was forced into a coalition government with Morgan Tsvangirai, the current prime minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr. Ray insisted that Washington believes that Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Political Front “will and should continue to play an important role in Zimbabwe’s future.”

“We are not anti-ZANU-PF, and we do recognize [its] many achievements …,” he said.

However Mr. Ray’s conciliatory words in a speech last week on U.S.-Zimbabwean relations belie his own experience in dealing with Mr. Mugabe since taking up his post in the capital, Harare, in December 2009.

By August 2010, Mr. Ray was tangling with Mr. Mugabe in a high-profile exchange after a funeral for Mr. Mugabe’s sister. Mr. Ray, along with German Ambassador Albrecht Conze and European Union diplomat Barbara Plinkert, walked out during Mr. Mugabe’s eulogy when he denounced Western governments for criticizing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Ray noted that Zimbabwe remains one of the world’s most dangerous places for reporters, as he praised the independent Radio Voice of the People Trust at its 10th anniversary celebration in September 2010.

“Journalists and publishers continue to be under threat for doing their work …” he said.

In January, Mr. Ray urged pro-democracy advocates, who are generally opposed to Mr. Mugabe’s political party, to adopt the nonviolent practices of Martin Luther King.

“I urge you to never let your voices be silent but, instead, to let them rise to the rafters, as Dr. King’s did time and time again,” he said.

Mr. Mugabe, meanwhile, has lashed out repeatedly at U.S. officials, especially at Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

He called Mr. Carson an “idiot” and a “little fellow” in a 2009 interview in a state-owned newspaper.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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