Rival Emphasizes Deal Despite His Distrust of Mugabe

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 16, 2009

JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 15 -- Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Thursday that he remains committed to a foundering power-sharing deal but expressed tepid faith in autocratic President Robert Mugabe's willingness to cooperate.

Speaking to reporters here, Tsvangirai called the stalled agreement the "best means of preventing Zimbabwe from becoming a failed state" and said he and Mugabe would meet within a week for the first time since November. But Tsvangirai said he does not fully trust Mugabe, who has hinted that he might soon form a government without his rivals.

"I regard Mr. Mugabe as part of the problem but also part of the solution," said Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change. "I don't have a credible partner on the part of Mr. Mugabe, but we have to deal with him."

The September pact between Tsvangirai and Mugabe offered fresh hope for Zimbabwe's economic and political crises but left doubts about whether the longtime adversaries could govern together. So far, they have not. Negotiations hit an impasse over the allotment of key ministries, and the government's refusal to issue Tsvangirai a passport until late December has kept him outside Zimbabwe for the past two months.

In the meantime, state security forces have imprisoned dozens of opposition and human rights activists, a cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people and Zimbabwe's currency has become all but worthless.

Tsvangirai, who said he would return to Zimbabwe on Saturday, said he would enter a unity government only under certain conditions. Those include a fair assignment of cabinet posts, the release of jailed activists and the enactment of a constitutional amendment that creates a framework for power-sharing. Under the deal, Mugabe, Zimbabwe's leader for nearly three decades, would remain president and Tsvangirai would become prime minister.

"Whether those demands will be met depends on the negotiators and their will," said government spokesman Paul Mangwana, who confirmed that Mugabe planned to meet with Tsvangirai to discuss the pact.

Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe in March presidential elections but did not win an outright majority. Tsvangirai withdrew from a June runoff, citing attacks on his supporters.

The opposition has left unclear what it would do if Mugabe does not meet its conditions, and Tsvangirai offered few answers Thursday. "Forming a government is not a panacea to the problems of Zimbabwe," Tsvangirai said. "But forming a functional government may create a basis to give confidence nationally and internationally, which will be a panacea."

Some international confidence has already eroded. The United States and Britain, which initially pledged to provide aid to Zimbabwe if Tsvangirai gained true power under the deal, have recently said they would not support a government that includes Mugabe.

In an interview after the news conference, Tsvangirai said he thought U.S. President-elect Barack Obama would bring "new moral authority" to U.S. policy on Zimbabwe and that a black American president would be a less convenient target for Mugabe's attacks on the "white, racist" West. But he said he doubted that Mugabe's defiance would soften and suggested that Obama work with other African nations to address the crisis.

A special correspondent in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed to this report.

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