INTERVIEW-Zimbabwe PM greeted by skeptical donors

*Mugabe "not best of angels" but government strong

*Donors so far not stepping up with big pledges

*Zimbabwe still cannot afford to pay IMF arrears

WASHINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's fragile unity government must work harder to convince donor countries that it can rescue the country from economic and political chaos, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Wednesday.

Tsvangirai, on a tour of Europe and the United States, conceded that his governing partner, President Robert Mugabe, may not be "the best of angels" and that tensions buffet the unity government the two formed in February.

But he said the political underpinnings of the deal remain strong and urged more help from the international community, which thus far has shown little readiness to provide more cash to fund Harare's reconstruction efforts.

"Zimbabwe must understand that we need to earn the confidence of the international community," Tsvangirai said in an interview two days before he was due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama. "The world is not going to come forward unless there is demonstrable improvement."

"I am very realistic about what we need to do, and what our shortcomings are."

It is an uphill battle for Tsvangirai, a former labor leader and longtime opposition leader now in an uneasy governing alliance with Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, which he for years accused of stealing elections and intimidating voters.

Harare says it needs about $10 billion to begin fixing an economy mired in its worst crisis since independence in 1980. But Tsvangirai's trip has yielded few concrete pledges of new support, a sign of lagging confidence in the unity government.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, said this week that Washington was troubled by the absence of reform in Zimbabwe and had no plans for now to offer major aid or lift sanctions against Mugabe.


Western aid is only beginning to trickle in -- and all of it is bypassing the government.

The World Bank on May 18 announced a $22 million grant, its first since 2001, although it later said the funds would go through nongovernmental organizations and U.N. agencies due to nagging concerns over government transparency.

Britain announced 15 million pounds ($23.9 million) in humanitarian aid, while Norway and the Netherlands have also pledged moderate amounts of new assistance.

Tsvangirai said his government needed $100-$150 million per month to operate and it must do more soon to persuade the world community that it is making progress on resolving political conflict, human rights and governance issues.

But he said it was making progress in reopening schools and hospitals, putting food and other commodities back on once nearly empty store shelves and sharply reducing inflation.

"We have to budget for the fact that there are skeptical assessments, but life goes on," he said.

He added that Zimbabwe was still in no position to pay off its over $133 million in arrears to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF looks likely to keep the door shut on most new grants to Zimbabwe for the foreseeable future.

Tsvangirai dismissed questions about senior military and security leaders -- including some longtime Mugabe allies who still refuse to salute the prime minister -- saying he was certain they would back the country's legal government.

"I don't have to have personal love of generals or personal relationships. If anyone wants to have an attitude towards me, he is also undermining the inclusive government," he said.

Many Western countries imposed sanctions on Mugabe's ZANU-PF government over charges of rights abuses, vote-rigging and its seizures of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to blacks without paying compensation.

Critics accuse Mugabe, 85, and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, of wrecking Zimbabwe's once-prosperous economy through mismanagement. The veteran leader blames the economic misery on sanctions and says his land policy is aimed at correcting colonial injustices.

Tsvangirai and Mugabe are at loggerheads over Central Bank Governor Gideon Gono, who Mugabe has kept in office even though he oversaw an economic debacle that at one point saw Zimbabwe burdened with the world's highest inflation rate at about 231 million percent.

Tsvangirai's MDC party has demanded Mugabe dismiss Gono, who has publicly admitted raiding foreign exchange accounts of NGOs and other organizations at the central bank, saying it was an important issue of credibility as the unity government seeks the backing of foreign donors.

"It is a very important issue, that is why it is a deadlocked issue," Tsvangirai said. "The credibility of the reserve bank -- not the merits of the individual -- is very very important." (Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani; editing by Paul Simao)