Zimbabwe summons US envoy over White House adviser’s comment

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (AP) — Zimbabwe summoned the United States (US) ambassador in Harare to a meeting over comments by a White House official suggesting Zimbabwe is among “foreign adversaries” that could face retaliation for trying to foment unrest in the US over the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air as a police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

The US ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols met with Zimbabwe’s foreign minister over comments on Sunday by US national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

In an interview on ABC’s This Week, O’Brien suggested, without citing any evidence, that Zimbabwe is one of several “foreign adversaries” — including China and Russia — he suggested were taking advantage of the protests in the US to “sow discord and to try and damage our democracy”.

“So there will be a response and it will be proportional, but this is not something that – that our adversaries are going to get away with for free,” O’Brien said.

Floyd was killed a week ago in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck even as he cried he could not breathe. One officer has been charged with murder.

United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols during a courtesy call with Zimbabwean President elect Emmerson Mnangagwa at his official State House in Harare. PHOTO: AP

Floyd’s death has sparked a week of protests that turned violent in cities across the US.

The Trump administration portrayed the violence as the work of outside groups and extremists. Officials are investigating whether foreign adversaries are behind a burgeoning disinformation campaign on social media.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has not made any official comment on the current crisis in the US, but his spokesman George Charambsa and other government supporters criticised the US on their personal social media accounts.

Following his meeting with Zimbabwe’s foreign minister, the US ambassador issued a statement on Monday saying he used the occasion to ask Zimbabwe to end state-sponsored violence against activists, citing recent abductions of opposition officials.

“I again urged Zimbabwe’s government to end state-sponsored violence against peaceful protesters, civil society, labour leaders and member of the opposition in Zimbabwe and to hold accountable those responsible for human rights abuses,” wrote Nichols in a letter tweeted by the US embassy.

In his unusually personal letter, Nichols said that “as an African-American I have known as long as I can remember that my rights and my body were not fully my own. I have also always known that America, conceived in liberty, has always aspired to be better — a shining city on a hill — and that is why I have dedicated my life to her service”.

He said in the US a police officer has already been charged with murder for Floyd’s death, while in Zimbabwe there are government critics who disappeared. He named the well-known cases of three Zimbabwean men who disappeared with no arrests made.

“Americans will continue to speak out for justice whether at home or abroad,” said Nichols. “We can meet the ideals of our founding, we can change this world for the better.”

After meeting the US ambassador, Zimbabwe’s Foreign affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo said his government noted “with astonishment and concern,” the US national security adviser’s statement describing Zimbabwe as an adversary. Moyo described the allegation as “false” and “without any factual foundation whatsoever and that they are deeply damaging to a relationship already complicated by years of prescriptive megaphone diplomacy and punitive economic sanctions.” He called for “more sincere and more practical dialogue” between the US and Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s relations with the US have been strained since 2003, when Washington imposed sanctions on several Zimbabwean government leaders over alleged human rights abuses and electoral fraud.