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Zimbabwe PM Tsvangirai to US: Process in Harare Flawed, But 'Irreversible'

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, in Washington for the first time since taking office in February, told VOA Wednesday he will "not gloss over the issues" still troubling the country's unity government he formed with President Robert Mugabe, but will also make the case that Zimbabwe's "irreversible" democratic transition merits American support.

Briefing journalists later after a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, he urged the U.S. government in more specific terms to support his government, warning of the potential consequences if it is not able to relaunch an economy battered by years of neglect.

"I think it will be important for the United States to give transitional support to the government," he said. "If this government were to collapse because it had failed to raise sufficient resources ... what is there to replace it, and what would be the future of Zimbabwe?" he demanded of his audience and those listening remotely.

"What we need is credit for our businesses and some injection into our recovery budget," he said "It will be important for the U.S. to give transitional support to us, because the alternative is too ghastly if we fail."

He said Western donor countries should support his government despite their objections to the continued presence of President Robert Mugabe as head of state following 2008 elections that were deeply flawed and marred by months of political violence.

"We have not given up our fire for a democratic Zimbabwe, even when we share power with someone who we believe has never been democratic," Mr. Tsvangirai said.

He was scheduled to meet Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and on Friday with President Barack Obama to talk about what the White House described in a statement early this week as “the difficult road ahead” for Zimbabwe.

With U.S. officials already setting the bar high to provide budget support for Zimbabwe’s unity government, Mr. Tsvangirai told VOA that his diplomatic initiative “is not an attempt to gloss over the issues" in Harare where, he recently acknowledged to his own Movement for Democratic Change party, there has been scant progress on human rights.

"Now engagement is not an event, it is a process. It is a confidence-building process," said Mr. Tsvangirai, referring to his effort to re-establish ties with Western countries.

"We have to say that in that engagement, there is a lot of education. There is misconception, there is perceptions that have been created, but there is also a point that we can clarify the current status of the country. Remember that we have said the new political dispensation is irreversible – but it is not perfect," Mr. Tsvangirai said.

He suggested that Monday’s statement by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson to the effect that more substantial reform was needed before Washington could provide major development aid was not necessarily the last word on the subject.

“One does not prematurely state a position before you have engaged,” Mr. Tsvangirai said.

“I am here on an official visit and I am hoping to engage the United States government at its highest level, and I’m hoping that at every stage there is an understanding of where we stand. I’m not saying everything on the ground is perfect. I’m saying the process that we have embarked on in creating the inclusive government is an irreversible process towards achieving democracy and transformation in the country,” he said.

Before coming to the United States, Mr. Tsvangirai was cordially received in the Netherlands, where however Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende also indicated that the Hague wanted to see more progress on human rights and the rule of law before boosting aid.

But British Minister for Africa Mark Malloch-Brown told reporters in Maputo, Mozambique, that his government wanted to give Zimbabwe's unity government “a chance of success.”

"We are engaged, but it is a cautious engagement", he said. "We're not yet convinced that (President) Mugabe and those around him are committed to a democratic transition."

But he made clear British aid will remain linked to progress on rights issues.

Mr. Tsvangirai, on the second stop of an eight-nation tour of Western capitals, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while acknowledging the shortcomings of power sharing in Harare, he hopes re-engagement with the West will yield results.

Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported that as Mr. Tsvangirai pursues his initiative in Washington and other capitals, hopes are high at home that he will return with the means to expand the new government's currently underfunded social and economic programs.

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