UNITED NATIONS – Zimbabwe's president is only four Cabinet posts away from carrying out a power-sharing agreement with the opposition, he said in an interview ahead of his Thursday address to the U.N. General Assembly.
Robert Mugabe dismissed reports that the Sept. 15 power-sharing deal could fall apart "because I don't know of any hitch." He said he hopes the agreement will lead the West to ease sanctions he blamed for devastating the country's economy.
Under the power-sharing deal, the 84-year-old Mugabe remains president but is supposed to cede some of the powers he has wielded for nearly three decades in the southern African country. Long-simmering and bitter differences as well as the nation's economic collapse, though, have put the deal under intense pressure.
Mugabe said Wednesday that the only outstanding issue is deciding on four of the 31 Cabinet posts, and those negotiations are continuing in Harare while he is in New York.
He declined to say which posts are still being discussed. The agreement provides for 15 nominees from Mugabe's party, 13 from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and three from the leader of a smaller opposition faction, Arthur Mutambara.
"Every one of us is actually positive about the agreement, or the need to cement the agreement and make it work," Mugabe said.
"I don't see any reason why we can't work together as Zimbabweans," he said. "We are all sons of the soil, as we say, and the differences arise purely from own conceptions of what Zimbabwe should be and what the government of Zimbabwe should be."
Tsvangirai won the most votes in March presidential polling, but not enough to avoid a runoff against Mugabe. An onslaught of violence against Tsvangirai's supporters led him to drop out of the presidential runoff and Mugabe was declared the overwhelming winner in the second vote, which was widely denounced as a sham.
More than 100 opposition supporters were killed in the violence, thousands of people were beaten up and suffered broken limbs, and tens of thousands were forced from their homes.
Mugabe — who has been in power since Zimbabwe declared independence from Britain in 1980 — and Tsvangirai have been enemies for a decade. Tsvangirai has been jailed, beaten, tortured and tried for treason — charges that were dismissed in court.
But Mugabe made clear Wednesday that he was willing to share power with Tsvangirai, who would become prime minister under the agreement, leading a council of ministers responsible for government policies and reporting to a Cabinet headed by Mugabe.
Still, Mugabe did not spell out who would have the final say if there was a major disagreement. While he repeated several times that all parties want the agreement to work, Mugabe dismissed Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change as a creation of Britain's three major parties and beholden to its government.
Mugabe also said he is determined to remain president despite what he said were efforts by Britain and the United States to oust him.
"They are waiting for a day when this man, this evil man, called Robert Mugabe is no longer in control," he said. "And I don't know when that day is coming."
So he has no thoughts of resigning?
"No — or a thought of dying," Mugabe chuckled.
Western nations, who have shunned Mugabe's government and whose aid and investment are sorely needed, have reacted cautiously to the coalition agreement. Millions of dollars in aid are expected to flow in if Mugabe actually shares power.
Mugabe said Wednesday that the West should now begin removing "demonic" sanctions, which have targeted individuals and companies seen to be supporting his regime. They were tightened after elections this spring and the European Union recently added an arms ban.
"We don't expect investment from countries that are hostile," Mugabe said. "They can keep their investment, but we would hope in the first place that sanctions would be lifted."
European Union foreign ministers have welcomed the power-sharing deal but have said that Mugabe must prove he is willing to restore democratic rule before EU sanctions can be lifted.
Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate even by the official figure of at 11 million percent, and independent economists put it much higher.
Critics have linked Zimbabwe's economic slide to Mugabe's 2000 order that commercial farms be seized from whites. Mugabe says the land reform program was meant to help poor blacks and blames the country's economic collapse on Western sanctions.
Food, fuel, hospital supplies and other necessities are scarce as prices skyrocket in the region's former breadbasket. Millions of Zimbabweans, including doctors, teachers, business owners and others with important skills, have fled the country.
Mugabe added that Zimbabwe can return to its former economic status, saying "if only the West can leave us alone, you will certainly see us come up."
"It will take us time because we have lost some time because of sanctions," he said.
While critics have complained about Zimbabwe's human rights record, Mugabe said the African Union and southern African leaders have not. When asked whether he would allow Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to come in, he replied: "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Let them keep out."
Mugabe also dismissed calls from those who say he should be tried for human rights abuses.
"I'm sure they forget I am not Mr. Bush who invaded Iraq ... Probably they mistake me for him. Isn't that the man who should be tried before I am tried?"
Leaders from Iraq, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Canada are among those also expected to address the General Assembly on Thursday.