Zimbabwe's PM Seeks U.S. Aid

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Opposition leader-turned-Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is in Washington this week with a difficult task. Can he convince the Obama administration to lift sanctions and put some trust in his power-sharing arrangement with President Robert Mugabe?


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is on a difficult diplomatic mission to Washington. He's trying to persuade the Obama administration to aid his government despite the fact that it still has Robert Mugabe at the helm. Mugabe is widely blamed for human rights abuses and for Zimbabwe's economic collapse.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has more on what Tsvangirai is hoping to achieve with this visit.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Morgan Tsvangirai has been Zimbabwe's prime minister for just four months, serving in a power sharing arrangement alongside those who jailed and tortured him in the past. He's here in Washington trying to strike a balance, speaking openly about the Zimbabwean regime that bankrupted the country while reassuring skeptics that he's trying to change that from within.

P: Already, Zimbabwe is a different place, a significantly different place and a better place. As a society, we were near death and we have come back to life.

KELEMEN: Two days before he is to meet with President Obama, Prime Minister Tsvangirai told the Council on Foreign Relations that he hopes to persuade the U.S. to restart the flow of aid.

BLOCK: What is happening in Zimbabwe is an irreversible process towards change and towards transition. I think it will be important for the United States to give transitional support to the government, but for the sake of helping this government to survive, because the alternative is too ghastly to contemplate.

KELEMEN: So far, the Obama administration has said that it won't lift sanctions that target President Mugabe and his allies until there is progress on democratic reforms.

But Congressman Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat who was in Zimbabwe recently, says the U.S. is looking for ways to respond to Prime Minister Tsvangirai's appeals for help.

NORRIS: I think that there is certainly a desire to try to help the people of Zimbabwe come out of this terrible period of time that they have had and the grave suffering that they have endured. The trick is how do you support the people without benefiting the regime who created the problem.

KELEMEN: Congressman Payne is calling for more support for civil society in Zimbabwe and targeted assistance to help revive agriculture and business. He said he did have a rare three-hour-long meeting with President Mugabe about all of this.

NORRIS: We went over the history of Zimbabwe since its liberation and what's happened, and of course, you know, raised the truth about human rights abuses. And so, we had a pretty interesting meeting.

KELEMEN: Payne says he found Mugabe to be feisty and proud of his past role as a liberation fighter. Zimbabwean Prime Minister Tsvangirai says the 85-year-old Mugabe seems to be thinking a lot about legacy these days.

BLOCK: And, you know, President Mugabe is going through these seesaw experiences. And I'm sure at his late - on his twilight years, he has realized that he is to end his life as the founding father of the nation, not somebody who is a villain of the nation.

KELEMEN: Tsvangirai described Mugabe as a political reality for the country and said he's trying to build up trust.

BLOCK: I still have my own corner of my mind, which says maybe he's trying to cheat me. I have to be on my guard. But certainly, I have to be - I have to always look hopeful because that's what the people expect.

KELEMEN: It's a sales pitch he has to make to himself, to his people and to donors like the U.S.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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