U.S. diplomat Charles Ray, nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next ambassador to Zimbabwe, appeared Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which held nomination hearings on appointments of envoys to a number African posts.
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.