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US Ambassador-Designate to Zimbabwe Hoping To Reopen 'Dialogue' With Harare

Nominated U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, career diplomat James D. McGee said in a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he would continue to press Harare for democratic reforms but would seek to reopen dialogue with the government.

McGee told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations he would pursue the same pro-democracy agenda in Zimbabwe as his outspoken predecessor, Christopher Bell, but would try to re-engage the government of President Robert Mugabe.

Nonetheless, McGee, a former ambassador to Lesotho, Madagascar and the Union of Comoros, bluntly told the panel that Zimbabwe today is "suffering under authoritarian misrule” while Harare “continues to commit unspeakable human rights abuses.”

McGee commended former ambassador Dell, whose hardline stance and outspoken criticisms once led an enraged Mr. Mugabe to declare, "Dell, go to hell."

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin), presiding over the hearing, asked McGee who he intended to engage in his diplomacy, making the comment that the U.S administration has failed to communicate effectively with the Zimbabwean government.

McGee said he would engage the Southern African Development Community, which in March asked South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate the crisis. But McGee and Feingold agreed SADC’s response to the crisis had been disappointing.

McGee said he would also work with the international community to bring about the political and economic reforms needed to end the crisis and rebuild Zimbabwe.

As Zimbabwe readies for presidential and general elections, McGee told the panel, "it is imperative that there be a substantial period of time for all candidates to campaign on a level playing field." He said that unless Harare makes the necessary changes, "the elections will not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people".

McGee added that in order to help the Zimbabwean people, the United States must continue to support Zimbabwean civil society, which he said would be of great help in Zimbabwe's "eventual recovery," especially in the area of food security.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...