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“The end of that war marked the evolution of our relationship from one of rivalry to one of close international partnership,” he said.

‘CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC’

U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray headed for Zimbabwe three years ago, pledging to promote human rights under one of Africa’s most autocratic leaders, Robert Mugabe.

At his Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Ray doubted that Mr. Mugabe could be trusted to cooperate in a new power-sharing arrangement with his chief political opponent, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Now, in the last few days of his tenure as ambassador, Mr. Ray is trying to smooth U.S.-Zimbabwean relations.

“For 10 years, we were just yelling and hurling insults at each other, and we never really had a substantive conversation about anything,” Mr. Ray told reporters in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. “We were complaining about some misbehavior, and they were calling us regime-change neo-imperialists.”

Actually, Mr. Mugabe, in power since 1980, has said much worse about U.S. officials: He called Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, an “idiot.”

Zimbabwean Ambassador to the U.S. Machivenyika Mapuranga insulted Mr. Carson, one of the highest-ranking black diplomats, by calling him a “good house slave.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Ray is trying to leave a positive message.

“Reflecting on my nearly three years in Zimbabwe, I remain cautiously optimistic,” he told the reporters. “The long-term future for this country is bright, and that is due in large part to the overwhelmingly energetic, dedicated and intelligent young people - people who make up the majority of Zimbabwe.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.