WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States will provide $73 million in aid to Zimbabwe, President Obama announced Friday after meeting with Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at the White House.
President Obama (right) praised Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai at the White House on Friday.
"I obviously have extraordinary admiration for the courage and tenacity that the prime minister has shown in navigating through some very difficult political times in Zimbabwe," Obama said.
"There was a time when Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa, and [it] continues to have enormous potential. It has gone through a very dark and difficult time politically."
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe "has not acted oftentimes in the best interest of the Zimbabwean people and has been resistant to the democratic changes that need to take place," Obama said. "We now have a power-sharing agreement that shows promise, and we want to do everything we can to encourage the kinds of improvement not only on human rights and rule of law, freedom of the press and democracy that is so necessary, but also on the economic front."
The U.S. aid will not be going to the government directly "because we continue to be concerned about consolidating democracy, human rights and rule of law," Obama said. "But it will be going directly to the people in Zimbabwe."
In a CNN interview following his meeting with Obama, Tsvangirai said he is grateful for the generosity. "Whether it is humanitarian aid or transitional support, it adds up to the relief that Zimbabwe is seeking," he said. Watch Tsvangirai discuss importance of aid to Zimbabwe »
Tsvangirai said he told Obama he would like the United States to use its global influence to assist Zimbabwe in dealing with the challenges it faces.
Tsvangirai said he understood other nations' reluctance to support the Zimbabwean government, given Mugabe's controversial history.
"I think it's fair," he said. "I understand it, given our history, and I'm not going to defend President Mugabe." But, he noted, the two have agreed to work together and help Zimbabwe progress as a nation.
In remarks with Obama, Tsvangirai said progress has been made by the transitional government, but much remains to be done. "It is the problems of implementation," he said. "... even by the standard of our own benchmarks, there are gaps that still exist." He said he would continue to strive to meet those benchmarks, not for the international community, but because "it gives [the] people of Zimbabwe freedom and opportunity to grow."
The power-sharing arrangement between Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and Mugabe came after contested elections last year.
"Of course we cannot brush away that history, that sad history," Tsvangirai told CNN. But he said he is hoping the country will heal and move forward, and wants even those skeptical of Mugabe to appreciate the transition process.
Asked whether he believes Mugabe should retire, Tsvangirai said "at the age of 85, I think one needs to retire." But, he said, for his own legacy, it's important for him to be thinking about a "dignified exit."
"I think that [the power-sharing government] provides him with this opportunity," Tsvangirai said.
Asked about his relationship with Mugabe, he said, "We don't have to fall in love to work together. But we have accepted that we have made an agreement to have a workable relationship between the two political parties." He said there had been acrimony between the two, but they realized it was not helping the Zimbabwean people.
"We are inspired by people like Nelson Mandela, who had to go for 27 years in jail but still come out and say, 'Let's forget about the past' ..." he said. He and Mugabe have chosen the process of dialogue rather than violence, Tsvangirai said. "Let history judge whether this historic experiment was the right course of action."
CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.
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