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U.S. Won't Support Zimbabwe's President Mugabe


The top American diplomat dealing with the troubles in Zimbabwe used some pretty undiplomatic language this past weekend to describe that country's president. Washington has pretty much given up on being nice and on a possible deal for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to share power with the man many believed actually won his presidential election. That diplomat spent the last few days meeting with leaders in southern Africa trying to convince them to toughen their stance against Mugabe, as NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Maybe it wasn't a coincidence, but as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer was ratcheting up pressure on Robert Mugabe to step down, Mugabe was defiantly doing a bit of ratcheting up of his own.

President ROBERT MUGABE (Zimbabwe): I will never, never sell my country. I will never, never, never, never surrender.

(Soundbite of crowd)

President MUGABE: Zimbabwe is mine.

HUNTER-GAULT: But the U.S. disagrees. In a dramatic policy reversal, Frazer says she told regional leaders of the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, the United States believes in power-sharing, but not now.

Ms. JENDAYI FRAZER (Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State): It's not credible with Mugabe as the president of the power-sharing government, because he has demonstrated that he doesn't believe in power-sharing.

HUNTER-GAULT: Frazer says the U.S. is withdrawing its offer to end sanctions and renegotiate with international lending institutions that had been based on a commitment to power-sharing.

Ms. FRAZER: We're saying that we're not prepared to do any of that with Robert Mugabe still in government because we have no confidence that there will be genuine power-sharing, which we believe is necessary to put in place the policies that would actually reverse the failed state, the failed economy. And certainly, in the political violence which we're continuing to see today with, you know, more than 30 people who were recently been disappeared over just the last month. We can't go on with that.

HUNTER-GAULT: Zimbabwe is plagued with hyperinflation, topping more than 200 million percent, and a rising cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives and has infected more than 21,000, though the U.S. says that the dead are also in the thousands. Mugabe claims the epidemic was caused by germ warfare from the west, said Frazer.

Ms. FRAZER: I think that it just speaks to a man who's lost it, who's losing his mind, is out of touch with reality.

HUNTER-GAULT: Frazer says Sadak(ph) is fed up with Mugabe but must act more decisively against him.

Ms. FRAZER: But what it requires is for Sadak to finally say to him, enough is enough.

HUNTER-GAULT: Mugabe has threatened to call early elections, but Frazer says free and fair elections are not possible now.

Ms. FRAZER: I don't think you can organize it. You know, you have the electoral commission, you know, that's questionable. You know, the state security apperatus that has been used for this politically-motivated violence is still there. And so I don't think one would want to put the population through trying to go back to the polls again.

HUNTER-GAULT: Frazer says she expects the UN Security Council to get tougher on Zimbabwe in January now that South Africa is no longer there to block it, but she says South Africa's credibility is also on the line.

Ms. FRAZER: I think it is fair for them to try negotiation of a power-sharing agreement, but when those actions don't work you have to then look at what other options and what more robust options will be necessary to end this. It's a nightmare, and it's a growing nightmare not just for the people of Zimbabwe, but for the entire region.

HUNTER-GAULT: South African officials insist the current power-sharing arrangement is the only way forward. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, tapped as prime minister, said Friday his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, will withdraw from unity talks unless 42 kidnapped party members are either released or charged by New Year's Day. Charlayne Hunter-Gault NPR News, Pretoria, South Africa.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Charlayne Hunter-Gault recently left her post as CNN's Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent, which she had held since 1999, to pursue independent projects. Before joining CNN, she worked from Johannesburg as the chief correspondent in Africa for NPR from 1997 to 1999.