THE Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, has called on Australia to end his country's pariah status, suspend sanctions and send the national team for a cricket tour - the first in more than eight years.
Mr Tsvangirai told the Herald in Canberra yesterday the situation in Zimbabwe was ''much better'' than the commonly held view of a nation in crisis.
In talks with the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, he urged help in running fresh elections that he hoped would be held within a year, possibly inside nine months.
But he said international embargoes - including one on arms sales - should be suspended as a sign of faith in the reform efforts, even though this would allow freedom of travel for the President, Robert Mugabe.
''There was a time when any restrictive measures [were] an incentive for good behaviour, but I think that we are past that. I think we have gone beyond what they can contribute positively,'' Mr Tsvangirai said.
The democracy champion said a fragile power-sharing deal - struck in 2009 after Mr Mugabe refused to surrender office despite losing the popular vote - had worked to calm Zimbabwe.
Britain has already moved to lift sanctions and other European countries are to decide this week if they will follow suit.
Mr Tsvangirai expects a new constitution to be put to a referendum within two months and said Australia could immediately suspend its sanctions but leave the threat of returning them, should polls not run smoothly.
''Suspend these measures but tie them to free and fair elections,'' he said. ''And, if the election is free and fair, fine … remove them permanently.''
He said it was ''regrettable'' Ms Gillard had not taken up an invitation she sought to a summit of African leaders this month, but now was the time to engage with Zimbabwe.
Mr Tsvangirai last visited Australia in 2007, just months after he was brutally bashed while meeting activists of his Movement for Democratic Change party.
In 2008, he won a presidential ballot against Mr Mugabe, but the 88-year-old, who has ruled Zimbabwe for more than three decades since independence, refused to step down.
''We had a stalemate. I had the support of the people, they had the guns,'' Mr Tsvangirai said.
After months of stand-off, including threats to Mr Tsvangirai's life that forced him to seek refuge in a foreign embassy in Harare, regional countries brokered a power-sharing deal.
''My relationship with President Mugabe has evolved from a very acrimonious relationship,'' he said. ''I have adopted a position where confrontation with him in the same government is not going to be helpful.''
Asked if there were dangers in lifting bans on military exports to Zimbabwe, particular before the next election, Mr Tsvangirai said the period of power-sharing had helped calm political tensions.
''The transition has removed a lot of barriers of suspicion, of polarisation,'' he said.
Even the military was closer to accepting civilian authority as the constitutional position and realised it would also benefit from a thriving economy, he said.