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Interview: US diplomat speaks on Zim-US relations

The United States of America’s newly appointed Ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton (BW) is touring the city of Bulawayo for the first time since his appointment. We managed to get him into our studios for a one-to-one interview with Clayton Moyo (CM).

CM: Today in the studio we have the United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Bruce Wharton, I must say Ambassador Wharton we are very honored and and humbled to host you in our studios, welcome.

BW: Thank you Clayton in fact the honour is mine to be here at Radio Dialogue in Bulawayo

CM: You have worked in Zimbabwe before, based on your knowledge of the country which priority areas are you going to work on during your tenure?

BW: My first priority is to make sure that I understand what’s going on in Zimbabwe today and this is my first big trip out of Harare, I decided to come to Bulawayo it’s one of the most important centres of gravity in Zimbabwe, I did work here before but that was 10 years ago and I want to make sure that I reach out to all political parties, all sectors of the civil society, the media, cultural groups and just regular Zimbabweans to get a better sense of what’s going on and how my embassy and my government can be useful and supportive to Zimbabwe.

CM: You have been assisting Zimbabwe in terms of HIV/AIDS intervention programs through such programs as the President’s Plan For AIDS Relief, what other programs are there to support the health sector?

BW: In fact support for the health of Zimbabwe’s people is our biggest single program, this year we are looking at about $92 million in support to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Over the last 10 years we have provided about $1 billion worth of aid to Zimbabwe, its a combination of humanitarian assistance in times of drought and food crisis as well as health assistance, we are also doing work to try and support democratic institutions in Zimbabwe to make sure that the people of Zimbabwe are able to build a successful, stable, just and prosperous future.

CM: There are fears of an economic recession in the US and some analysts talk of the possibility of a double dip recession, what’s the outlook for funding of projects in Zimbabwe?

BW: You are quite right, you have done some good research there, president Obama and our Congress are working very hard right now to avoid something called a fiscal cliff which is a set of automatic cuts to big programs as well as increases in revenue I hope of course they will be successful but our budget process operates about 2 years into the future so I can tell you now that we are actually looking at increasing our support for health programs in Zimbabwe from $92 million to about $95 million dollars next year.

CM: Then politically Ambassador the relations between the US and Zimbabwe have been strained, how do you hope to improve the relations between the two countries?

BW: You are right, the bilateral relationship, the official relationship has been difficult, we have some profound disagreements about the best way forward, the best way to strengthen Zimbabwe, I think we all want the same thing but the process of getting there is different for different people. At the same time our relationship with the people of Zimbabwe I think it has been really really strong. There are a number of Zimbabweans that I know in the States who work in the business there as I mentioned we have been extremely supportive of the people of Zimbabwe through health programs, some support for education programs and some support for humanitarian assistance. My own ambition is to improve the bilateral relationship, I hope to move our official relationship forward to a more normal relationship. Secretary Clinton spoke in Cape Town in August about an action for action response to Zimbabwe and what that means essentially is that we will watch very carefully as Zimbabwe pursues the political agreement, the plan that the political parties agreed to and as we see forward progress we will seek ways to respond quickly.

CM: And of course there is the issue of targeted restrictive measures, some call it sanctions imposed by the US on Zimbabwe, do you see the US government relaxing these measures during your term?

BW: The sanctions were put in place for very specific reasons on a very small number of people, I would like us to move beyond that period in our relationship but it’s not something that I can do alone it’s something that I need to work with the government and the people of Zimbabwe on.

CM: Are you satisfied with the kind of progress towards the respect of human rights in Zimbabwe?

BW: You know I have seen some real changes here since I was last here about ten years ago, there are more newspapers on the streets for example, I think that’s a very positive thing, I would love to see licensing of community radio stations, I think that giving people a voice in their own communities is a very powerful way to give people the chance to discuss problems and find solutions to them. I don’t think I have been here long enough to pass judgements on some of these larger issues but it’s something that we are watching very carefully and we have to learn exactly what’s going on.

CM: Just recently Zimbabwe was given a go ahead by the Kimberly Process certification Scheme to trade its diamonds freely, now the question is will America lift the diamond trade embargo imposed on Zimbabwe?

BW: There is no diamond trade embargo on Zimbabwe, it’s a little bit complicated but I think it’s important to seperate the Kimberly Process which looks very narrowly at the human rights conditions around mines and mining operations and that’s a separated issue from the targetted sanctions. The United States agrees with the Kimberley Process that Zimbabwe has done an excellent job of complying with these international standards which are intended to ensure that consumer confidence in diamonds and other precious gems is very strong. That of course that consumer confidence in the way Zimbabwe and other countries mine diamonds will ensure that the price of diamonds is high as possible.

CM: And lastly Ambassador, Zimbabwe is heading for elections most probably next year, do you think that this country is ready for free and fair elections?

BW: Well I think that 2013 represents a tremendous opportunity for the people of Zimbabwe to move forward on the political process that’s been under way since 2008/2009 and it’s the sort of process that could certainly lead to improved relations with the United States so I hope to do everything I can to support the people of Zimbabwe in moving that process forward as peacefully and as fairly as possible.

CM: Ambassador Wharton thank you so very much

BW: Thanks Clayton, it’s been a real pleasure.

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