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U.S. Rebukes Zimbabwe's President


I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just ahead, our money coach Alvin Hall on why two former Wall Street senior executives are now facing criminal charges relating to the subprime mortgage crisis. He'll tell us about the government's case, and the defense.

But first we want to continue to follow developments in Zimbabwe, where opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy in the capital Harare after pulling out of Friday's runoff election. Tsvangirai and his supporters have faced weeks of violence and harassment evidently aimed at intimidating anybody who might vote against long time leader Robert Mugabe. Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously declared that the violence and the restrictions on political opposition, had made it impossible to hold a free and fair vote on Friday, but government leaders in Zimbabwe continue to insist that the election will go forward as scheduled. Here to talk with us about these developments is Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer. She's the U.S.'s top envoy to Africa. She's also a former ambassador to South Africa. Thank you so much for joining us, ambassador.


Ambassador JENDAYI FRAZER (Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Former Ambassador to South Africa): Thank you.

MARTIN: First I wanted to ask you about Morgan Tsvangirai's decision to pull out of the runoff. Our colleagues at Morning Edition spoke to him yesterday and this is what he said.

Mr. MORGAN TSVANGIRAI (Opposition Party Leader, MDC, Zimbabwe): It will actually be the betrayal of those who have sacrificed so much. To go in a so-called election where it is impossible to assess the will of the people because they have all been frog(ph) matched into this kind of a process.

MARTIN: In essence, he said he didn't want to legitimize the election with his presence. He said the cost to his supporters was too high, but the state owned media did not, as of yesterday, even report his withdrawal. His name is still on the ballot. Some people are afraid that Zimbabweans won't even know that he's withdrawn his name. Does the U.S. government believe he made the right decision?

Ambassador FRAZER: Yes, we do believe he made the right decision. It's an unfortunate decision, but one that he was forced into because the government, right on the eve of the election, were hunting down party officials. They were attacking his supporters, not allowing them to assemble, despite the high court order to allow a rally to go forward in Harare, and also arrested his security detail, so I think that it was a responsible decision that he made.


MARTIN: The UN called upon Zimbabwe to allow opponents to campaign, to postpone the runoff, to allow humanitarian organizations to resume - strong words, but it doesn't say anything about what the UN is prepared to do if the government refuses, which so far it has refused to do any of these things. What are the consequences?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, the presidential statement that was unanimously adopted, is an important step because prior to that it was only Secretary Rice holding a roundtable on Zimbabwe that allowed for Zimbabwe to even be discussed at the UN, and so with this presidential statement we now have the right to talk about Zimbabwe. And the Security Council will take up this issue on a regular basis, which means that if in fact the situation doesn't improve, we can move towards more robust action including looking at multilateral sanctions.

MARTIN: What kinds of sanctions would those entail?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, currently for instance, the United States has targeted sanctions against individuals in Zimbabwe, but not against the government as a whole. We could put sanctions on the government as a whole. There are other actions that we could take. We could start looking at holding accountable those officials who are perpetuating this violence, the security apparatus, the generals, the police, and the central intelligence organization.

MARTIN: But some of those sanctions already are in place. It doesn't seem to have had any effect on the government's behavior. Why do you feel that further sanctions might?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, the sanctions that are in place are visa sanctions which stopped them from traveling to the United States, as well as some other financial sanctions which did not allow our companies to do business with these individuals and with their businesses, but if we put broader sanctions on and if we multilateralize those sanctions, then they will be also cut off from the European markets and there will be a much, I think, a greater impact. And so we can escalate the pressure on the government and are prepared to do so if the violence doesn't stop.

MARTIN: We've talked to a number of people obviously on the ground in Zimbabwe, as I'm sure you have too, and apparently the disinformation campaign is so thorough that a lot of people don't understand that the sanctions only apply to high ranking officials. And as you know, of course, that the government is blaming sanctions for the economic depravations that ordinary Zimbabweans are suffering. What do you do to insure that people know that these sanctions, if they are implemented, are actually aimed at the people at the top and not the people who are suffering?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, that is correct, and you put it exactly right, it is a disinformation campaign. What ultimately people will react to is their livelihood and the fact that there's hyper inflation in Zimbabwe that the bank notes are - even have an expiry date because they're so useless, 2.5 billion dollar Zim notes to one U.S. government note, shows you that the state of the economy is in freefall. Whether they blame the United States, what is clear is that the presidency and the leadership of President Mugabe has not allowed them to live in an economy that provides for their livelihood, and so whomever they're blaming, this ultimate result is that they're being hurt. Certainly they can't say that the United States is wielding the sticks that are beating them. They see that those sticks are being wielded by the security forces, the police, the military, and the militias of Zanu-PF, and so I think the people of Zimbabwe know where their pain is coming from, and that's why on March 29th they voted for Morgan Tsvangirai. They voted for change.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News, and I'm speaking with Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Ambassador, the foreign ministers of the South African Development Community also met in Angola on Monday. Now some of the leaders there have used unusually strong rhetoric calling the situation an embarrassment, but what more could they be doing?

Ambassador FRAZER: I think it's extremely important. The Southern African Development Community has a key role to play. First, they're the neighbors, and this is the first time that they have almost with one voice condemned the violence of the government of Zimbabwe and are holding President Mugabe to account. We hope that there will be an extraordinary meeting of the Troika, the organ for politics, defense, and security which is made up of Tanzania, Swaziland, and Angola right now. And at that head of state level they will take a decision about this March 27th election. We would expect that they would come out, as their foreign ministers have said, and said the conditions do not exist for free and fair election, and therefore whether the government goes forward or not, the government that comes out of that cannot be considered legitimate.

MARTIN: There's an African Union summit later this week in Egypt. I'm wondering if you're going to attend that, but some people have called for the African Union to put together a protection force. What would such a force look like and what would it do and is this a realistic option?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, I will go to the AU Summit and I do expect that Zimbabwe will be high on the agenda there, and we have heard calls from the region for a protection force. And I think the feeling is that the people of Zimbabwe have been in grave danger from their own government that you right now - you have AU and SADC monitors, a good 300 or so on the ground. Some of those monitors have been reportedly attacked as well, and so a peace force probably would look - would be an African Union peace force initially, I would imagine. And then one would consider whether we would move towards an international force, but I think that the conditions there clearly call for protection of the Zimbabwean people, but hopefully we can get there through negotiation and by SADC putting pressure on President Mugabe to actually negotiate. I think Morgan Tsvangirai has demonstrated his willingness to negotiate on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, but at this point President Mugabe is refusing.

MARTIN: Have you spoken with Mr. Tsvangirai?

Ambassador FRAZER: I have. I spoke to him yesterday.

MARTIN: And can you just tell us anything about the nature of the conversation? I think some are also wondering if the U.S. would support a power-sharing arrangement, such as was put in place in Kenya early this year after extended violence and turmoil related to elections there, which were also disputed as these have been.

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, my first question to Morgan Tsvangirai was, how was he doing? And how -was he safe, and as well to ask him about the level of violence against his supporters. Because that's our first and foremost concern, which is to end this violence of the government.

Secondly, I asked him what is his plan having now decided to pull-out of the election, and he certainly did indicate a willingness to negotiate on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe to end this violence. And I think that, that was an important step and it certainly does influence the United States' policy. And we are certainly trying to support democratic forces across the continent, and Morgan Tsvangirai is certainly that, in the context of Zimbabwe.

So, we will in many ways follow his lead, and if he believes that a negotiated settlement at this point is the best option, we certainly would not discourage him from that.

MARTIN: Do you, though, believe that Mr. Mugabe - has he shown any, well, you know, I think the fair question would be, have you spoken to Mr. Mugabe or any officers of his government, as well?

Ambassador FRAZER: I have not, but our ambassador James McGee has spoken to officials within his government. But we've reached out to President Mugabe, and he has not returned our calls, as he hasn't returned the calls of many leaders in the region itself.

MARTIN: Has he shown any willingness to participate in a power-sharing arrangement?

Ambassador FRAZER: At this point he has not.

MARTIN: So, ambassador you've spent many, many years in the region working on conflicts just such as this. Do you have any sense of optimism, that this situation can be peacefully resolved?

Ambassador FRAZER: I do have a sense of optimism. I do believe we can help the Zimbabwean people, and the two parties to pull themselves back from the brink of true disaster. I'm very optimistic, but I think that will require collective action on the part of the international community. And we've taken the first step by tabling this issue formally at the UN Security Council.

I do believe that the SADC countries are also taking out stronger positions to hold President Mugabe accountable, and I also think that the African Union under the leadership of President Kikwete will have a decisive role to play. So, I'm optimistic.

MARTIN: What's the basis of that optimism, though?

Ambassador FRAZER: Well, I've seen many countries in Africa on the brink of disaster and able to pull themselves back. I think that clearly a man who's 84 years old, who has a failed economy, who has divided his society. What we're seeing, we're witnessing true tyranny in the actions of the government of Zimbabwe.

I believe that the Zanu-PF party itself is divided. They're many officials within Zanu-PF who are embarrassed by the actions of their security apparatus and President Mugabe, in their effort to cling to power.

And when it's so blatant and so open, when they're starving the population by pulling back non-governmental organizations, who have been providing food to that population, the world community will say we've had enough.

MARTIN: Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer is the U.S.' top diplomat in Africa. She joined us from the State Department. Ambassador, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ambassador FRAZER: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.