- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

PRESSURE ON MUGABE

The diplomat selected to be the next U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe is promising to keep up the pressure on the country’s authoritarian president, Robert Mugabe, who repressed human rights while he bankrupted the southern African nation.

Charles Ray, a career Foreign Service officer, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that his main goal is to promote democracy in a country that has long suffered under Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980.

“I will continue our efforts to assist the people of Zimbabwe in their pursuit of representative, democratically elected government that respects human rights, adheres to the rule of law and undertakes the economic reforms necessary to bring prosperity back to Zimbabwe and contribute to growth and stability in the region,” he said at his confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Mr. Ray expressed doubts about future of the current government with Mr. Mugabe as president and his main political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, as prime minister.

Mr. Tsvangirai beat Mr. Mugabe in the first round of the presidential election last year but dropped out of a runoff because of mob violence against his supporters and fears that Mr. Mugabe would steal the election. Under widespread regional pressure, Mr. Mugabe in February formed a power-sharing government with Mr. Tsvangirai.

“I’m not sure we can depend on Mr. Mugabe being cooperative,” Mr. Ray said.

“The key is to help the reform-minded members of all parties in Zimbabwe to develop the capacity, a certain level of economic stability and progress despite his presence and to watch that progress closely to see if it is real progress or just fake progress.”

The coalition government is already strained over a dispute about the future of the Zimbabwean dollar. Under Mr. Mugabe inflation hit a staggering high of 90 sextillion and a $100 trillion bank note would buy three eggs. (A sextillion is a number followed by 21 zeroes.)

Under the new government, Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew the Zimbabwean currency and allowed citizens to use foreign money, chiefly the U.S. dollar or South African rand. Inflation is creeping downward and store shelves are filling up again. However, Mr. Mugabe wants to reintroduce the Zimbabwean dollar, while Mr. Tsvangirai wants to keep it off the market until the economy stabilizes.

CHINA STILL BULLISH

China remains bullish on the United States, despite holding nearly $800 billion in U.S. debt, according to Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong.

Far from threatening to dump its Treasury bonds, China is preparing to “expand” its business with the United States, he told China’s Xinhua News Agency on a visit to Beijing this week.

“We will enhance policy coordination on macro-economics and expand economic and trade cooperation with the United States,” he said.

“The Chinese-U.S. ties have grown into one of the most vigorous bilateral relations along with the most important influence and greatest potential.”

China is the United States’ largest foreign creditor with $740 billion in Treasury securities, more than 24 percent of all U.S. foreign debt.

Annual bilateral trade between the two nations has soared to $333.7 billion, which is 130 times higher than in 1979 when the United States and China established diplomatic relations.

DIPLOMATIC DEFINITION

“Diplomats and flies have one thing in common. Both of us can get killed by a newspaper.” - Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, speaking at a forum in Denver on Tuesday.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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