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Mugabe Cold-Shouldered At African Summit

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. African leaders pushed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to open talks with the opposition today as the Bush administration pressed for U.N. sanctions against his government.

The African Union summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt is seen as a test for Mugabe. The Zimbabwean president was looking for a vote of confidence from fellow African leaders after being re-elected last week in a one-candidate run-off that was widely denounced as a sham.

Elizabeth Blunt is covering the African Union summit for the BBC. She's in Sharm El Sheikh, and she joins us now from there. Elizabeth, how has Robert Mugabe been received at the summit?

Ms. ELIZABETH BLUNT (British Broadcasting Company): Well, that's the great question. And, in fact, I can't really tell you because this summit, the security is so incredibly tight. The journalists aren't allowed anywhere near the hall. We only saw one picture of him on Ethiopian television, sitting, looking extremely glum. And I'm told, actually, by people who were in the hall, that was pretty much how it was.

Jendayi Frazer, who was in the session, said she only saw one person go over and speak to him. And someone else who was there said nobody greeted him, and nobody congratulated him for just having won an election. And if this was a normal person that came to your house, of course, you would congratulate him. By African standards, this is actually quite rude towards him.

NORRIS: And you mentioned Jendayi Frazer. She is the U.S. undersecretary of state for Africa.

Ms. BLUNT: She is, yes. And she's here - really, she's here lobbying for them to do something strong on Zimbabwe, and, I think, for support for the American plan for sanctions against Zimbabwe. They're putting that up at the U.N. next week.

NORRIS: In the past, many African governments have been reluctant to criticize Zimbabwe or criticize Robert Mugabe's strong-arm tactics. Why is that?

Ms. BLUNT: I think they're very reluctant to criticize any of their own number, at least in public, but they do do it behind closed doors. I've been to a Southern African summit meeting two or three years ago. They were there to put pressure on President Mugabe. They had a closed-door session that went on for hours and hours. Nobody came out, not even for lunch.

About half an hour before the end of it, the doors flew open, and out stomped President Mugabe, striding out by himself and out of the building. Obviously, there had been some huge row and some major disagreement, and yet the statement at the end of that meeting was as bland as those statements always are. So you can't judge by what you read in the statement or what's said publicly. Unless you can see the body language, it's very hard to know exactly what's going on.

NORRIS: Now, this summit will continue. Are there indications that those kind of difficult, closed-door sessions might happen in the days ahead?

Ms. BLUNT: Oh, yes. Tomorrow, yes, they will discuss Zimbabwe, and we understand that President Mugabe is being given time, perhaps an hour, to explain himself to his fellow heads of state. That, I'm afraid, will be behind closed doors again, but it's going to be extremely interesting, and I'm sure we'll sooner or later find out what went on.

NORRIS: Elizabeth Blunt is covering the African summit for the BBC. She's in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. BLUNT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.