President Robert Mugabe called Tuesday for a new start to relations with those Western countries he has spent years insulting for their criticism of his leadership.

"Our country remains in a positive stance to enter into fresh, friendly and cooperative relations with all those countries that have been hostile to us in the past," he said.

Mugabe spoke to legislators at the first sitting of parliament since a unity government was formed with the former opposition in February.

The 85-year-old leader who has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly three decades, agreed to share power with longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after disputed elections last year.

Mugabe said Zimbabwe's "re-engagement" with Europe was "gathering momentum" now that there was a unity government.

However, Mugabe did not back down from his insistence that sanctions, which he claims have been illegally imposed by Western nations, must be lifted.

He has long blamed the punitive measures, which are targeted at him and his cronies, for the country's economic woes. His party has said Tsvangirai is not doing enough to get them lifted.

"Together in the inclusive government let us build the bridges of amity, forgiveness, trust and togetherness, and be united in body, mind and spirits as Zimbabweans," he said.

Mugabe's reconciliatory comments are unusual for the leader who is known to level colorful and often personal insults at Western leaders.

He has called former British Prime Minister Tony Blair a "B-Liar."

He has also directed particularly vitriolic comments against black diplomatic officials of former U.S. president George W. Bush.

But Mugabe is under pressure to meet demands for political and economic reform and there have been recent signs of co-operation.

Terror charges against nine human rights activists have been dropped and work is being done to draw up a new constitution.

But human rights organizations say activists continue to be harassed and farms continue to be invaded by militants loyal to Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's economic meltdown began after Mugabe ordered the seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms in 2000, disrupting the agriculture-based economy in the former regional breadbasket.