- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

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.

Mr. Mugabe’s ambassador in Washington, Machivenyika Mapuranga, interrupted Mr. Carson’s speech at a 2010 Africa Day celebration by calling him a “good house slave.”

PRAISING INDIA’S AMBASSADOR

Meera Shankar found herself widely toasted in Washington as she bid farewell to U.S. officials, after two years as India’s ambassador to the United States.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised her “celebrated tenure.” Robert Blake Jr., assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, noted her “immense contribution” to U.S.-Indian relations.

Mrs. Shankar, who ended her official duties on Sunday, reviewed the “strong economic ties” between the two countries in an interview with the Press Trust of India.

“The India-U.S. trade and investment flows have become far more robust,” she said, adding that the relationship is “unique.”

“It is broadly balanced in both directions, and it is growing in both directions,” she said, noting that bilateral trade is more than $80 billion a year.

Her tour in Washington included high level visits by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other officials.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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