US Says Zimbabwe's Mugabe Government Not Legitimate Without Runoff

The State Department is expressing understanding for Mr. Tsvangirai's decision to quit the race, and deep disappointment that the Mugabe government made a free and fair runoff election impossible with its violent campaign against the opposition.

In a written statement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it is abundantly clear that President Mugabe is determined to thwart the will of the Zimbabwean people, and that the United States condemns the violence in the strongest terms.

Rice said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party must work together on behalf of the Zimbabwean people and said the Mugabe government "cannot be considered legitimate" in the absence of a runoff.

The Secretary further said Mr. Mugabe and his government have forsaken the most basic tenet of government, the protection of its people, and must be held accountable by the international community.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said that Rice's remark about the legitimacy of the Mugabe government is a statement of the obvious, given the situation.

"Can we stop with the legal niceties here? This is a government that has no legitimacy in the eyes of its people, in the eyes of the United States or in the eyes of the international community absent a free and fair election," he said. "That's what it means. And whether there will be policy consequences to that or not depends on the action that this government takes in light of our statements, in light of actions in the Security Council, and in light of the discussions they're having with other regional leaders."

Casey said in addition to measures taken by the international community, the United States could augment sanctions it already has in place against Mr. Mugabe and key associates.

But he ruled out the withdrawal of U.S. Ambassador James McGee from Harare, saying his presence is needed to gauge the situation on the ground and maintain contact with the besieged opposition.

Casey said the United States had no role in Mr. Tsvangirai's decision to pull out of the runoff but is supportive of it under the current conditions, which he said are making Zimbabwe's president an international political pariah.

"All I can say is it must be a very dark and scary place where Robert Mugabe is right now politically, because it's abundantly clear by actions of his government that neither he nor any of those supporting him believe that he would win a free in a and fair election, if they are re resorting to this kind of violence as a response," he said.

Casey did not specify what steps the Bush administration wants the world community to take, but that its initial expectation is for a so-called president's statement from the U.N. Security Council condemning the Harare government.
South Africa among others had resisted bringing the issue to the Security Council but Casey said the latest developments have brought a "change in tone" by regional leaders once protective of Mr. Mugabe.