United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray has urged the leaders of the fragile national unity government in Harare not to cling to the past and to develop trust in order to restore Zimbabwe's prosperity and position.
Ambassador Ray said the United States is ready to engage President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara in a serious discussion of bilateral re-engagement which could expand the areas in which Washington is prepared to provide aid.
Confirmed as ambassador by the U.S. Senate in August, Ray presented his diplomatic credentials to President Mugabe earlier this month.
Soon after, the state-controlled Herald newspaper, close to Mr. Mugabe's side of the power-sharing government of national unity, declared itself "encouraged by statements made" by Ray following his one-hour meeting with Mr. Mugabe.
According to the Herald, the envoy said the talks went "exceptionally well," and he expressed to the president his "commitment to working with everyone to restore the country to prominence and prosperity."
Relations between Harare and Washington were often tense and chilly over the past decade as U.S. officials vocally criticized the Mugabe government's record on human rights. Ray's immediate predecessor James McGee had brushes with police when he visited hospitals treating victims of political violence during the tumultuous 2008 elections, and President Mugabe once angrily declared that the previous U.S. ambassador, Christopher Dell, could "go to hell."
As recently as July, Mr. Mugabe lashed out at U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnny Carson, accusing him of being condescending in a brief meeting on the margins of an international gathering.
President Barack Obama recently described President Mugabe as a "dictator" and his administration has maintained targeted sanctions imposed on him and many other senior members of his long-ruling ZANU-PF party.
In an interview with VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu, Ray said the Harare power-sharing leadership must develop relations of mutual trust and reach decisions that "send clear signals that in fact things have improved."
Ray added: "The more people cling to historical symbols and dwell on the past the less progress there'll be made."
Regarding the U.S. targeted sanctions which President Mugabe has described as illegal, demanding they be lifted, Ray said that "there's probably been too much focus on sanctions as a factor in the relationship.
"In my meeting with President Mugabe, I said essentially that I believe in engagement and dialogue, that we all need to sit down and rationally and maturely discuss with each other ways to restore, not only our relations, but more importantly to restore Zimbabwe to the position it once held."