"We cannot depend on Mugabe being cooperative" – New US Ambassador

The career diplomat fielded questions from Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, chairman of the committee, and ranking Republican John Isakson, touching on China’s relationship with the country and the transitional unity government now in place in Harare.

Ray said that if confirmed, "I will continue our efforts to assist the people of Zimbabwe in their pursuit of a representative, democratically elected government that respects human rights, adheres to the rule of law, and undertakes the economic reforms necessary to bring prosperity back to Zimbabwe and and contribute to growth and stability in the region."

Queried by Feingold on China’s role in Zimbabwe, Ray said he would draw on his experience as a diplomat in Asia – including four years in Beijing – to develop understanding of China’s role in Zimbabwe "and how that can complement what we are doing."

Isakson asked for Ray’s thoughts on the unity government in Harare and President Robert Mugabe’s role in it. He responded: "I’m not sure that we can depend on Mr. Mugabe being cooperative.

The key is to help the reform-minded members of all parties in Zimbabwe to develop the capacity…a certain level of economic stability and progress despite his presence and to watch that progress closely to see if it is real progress or just fake progress."

In the same hearings Tuesday the committee heard from ambassadorial nominees to Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and the African Union.

Ray served as U.S. ambassador to Cambodia from 2002 to 2005. A member of the State Department Foreign Service since 1983, following his retirement from the U.S. Army a year earlier with the rank of major, he has also been posted to China, Thailand and Vietnam.

The African-American diplomat served as deputy chief of mission in Sierra Leone.

Since 2006 Ray has been deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoners of war and missing personnel affairs.

The Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe described the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs as "an idiot" after an acrimonious meeting between the two at an African summit in Libya, Zimbabwe’s state media reported today.

The state Herald newspaper carried the remarks after a briefing Mugabe gave to Zimbabwean reporters at the end of last week’s summit of the continentwide African Union.

According to the Herald paper, Mugabe said nothing came out of those talks.

"You wouldn’t speak to an idiot of that nature. I was very angry with him, and he thinks he could dictate to us what to do," Mugabe was quoted as saying.

He said regional leaders supported the formation of a power-sharing government in February and then "you have the likes of little fellows like Carson saying ‘do this, do that.’"

"Who is he? I hope he is not speaking for Obama. I told him he was a shame, a great shame being an African American," Mugabe was quoted as saying.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the former opposition, visited President Barack Obama in Washington last month as part of a trip to the United States and Europe to re-engage with Western leaders after a decade of Zimbabwean isolation.

Mugabe is known for vitriolic outbursts against his critics, reserving some of his harshest comments for those who, like Carson, are black.

Mugabe labeled Carson’s predecessor, Jendayi Frazer, who also is black, as "that little girl trotting around the globe like a prostitute" to campaign against him.

Frazer had criticized Mugabe’s party over political violence and vote rigging surrounding disputed national elections in March 2008.

The pro-Mugabe state media launched repeated attacks against former U.S. Ambassador James McGee, who also is black, describing him as a "house Negro" for white Western leaders.

In typical language used by Mugabe, he has called former British Prime Minister Tony Blair a "B-Liar."

Before Tsvangirai joined the coalition government, Mugabe had referred to him as "Fatcheeks" and a tea boy, a lowly domestic worker.

On Friday, McGee, whose left Zimbabwe Sunday after a three-year tenure, promised more U.S. support for the country’s political and economic recovery but said democratic reforms needed to be in place first.

McGee, a harsh critic of Mugabe’s autocratic rule, rejected the idea that Zimbabwe needed more support from donors to restore the rule of law, respect for human rights and to guarantee basic freedoms of speech and association.

"It doesn’t cost anything … to have judges apply the law equally. Dropping phantom politically motivated prosecutions is free. Stopping the arrests of political activists and independent journalists is also free," McGee said in a farewell speech.