WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration on Saturday sought an apology from Zimbabwe for an anti-American speech delivered by a Cabinet member at a Fourth of July reception in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.
The incident, which prompted a walkout by former President Jimmy Carter and the U.S. charge d'affaires, Edward G. Lanpher, put a new strain on Washington's already troubled relationship with the government of black-ruled nation on the border of South Africa.
"We regret that the government of Zimbabwe chose to abuse U.S. friendship and hospitality by using the occasion of our Independence Day reception to misrepresent and criticize in unacceptable language the policies of the United States government," State Department spokesman Joseph Reap said.
"We are requesting an apology from the responsible government of Zimbabwe authorities," he said.
Exchange of Toasts
The dispute came during an exchange of toasts--usually a time for expressing friendship and papering over differences--at the embassy's annual party for government officials, diplomats and other guests.
In a speech attributed to Foreign Minister Witness Mangwende but read on his behalf by a Cabinet colleague, the Zimbabwe government attacked the United States for its policy toward South Africa and for its bombing raid on Libya.
The speech complained that Washington is unwilling to impose economic sanctions against the white-led South African government, although in the past it has applied sanctions to Nicaragua, Poland and Libya. And it said the United States bombed Libya in April to combat state terrorism but ignored what the Zimbabwe government said was South Africa's terror tactics against its own black population and its black-governed neighbors.
"What we are hearing is nothing but platitudes and apologies for apartheid," the speech said.
Western Envoys Follow
Carter, a wine glass still in his hand, and acting ambassador Lanpher stormed out of the lunchtime reception while David Kariamazira, minister of youth, sport and culture, was reading the speech. They were quickly followed by British High Commissioner Ramsey Meluis and other Western diplomats, according to news accounts from Zimbabwe. Carter supported Zimbabwe's independence and was a sharp critic of South Africa during his four years in the White House. The Reagan Administration's policy of "constructive engagement" with South Africa to bring change in its apartheid policy was described by its authors as an alternative to the confrontations of the Carter Administration.
Nevertheless, the former president, who was on a private visit to Zimbabwe, was quoted as calling the speech "an insult to my country and an insult to me personally."
Lanpher said a formal note of protest would be sent to the Zimbabwe government on Monday.
The government of President Robert Mugabe describes itself as socialist and nonaligned. In practice, its foreign policy is radical but its economy is increasingly market oriented.
The United States has supplied more than $370 million in foreign aid to Zimbabwe since it obtained its independence in 1980. Officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development usually include Zimbabwe on the relatively short list of African nations with economic potential.
Nevertheless, the Mugabe government often angers Washington with its radical policies. Zimbabwean politicians also seem to have found that anti-American rhetoric goes down well domestically.