JOHANNESBURG, South Africa The two paths of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai are telling: Mugabe, newly sworn in as Zimbabwe's president again, is at a summit of African leaders while the opposition leader holes up in a Western embassy in Zimbabwe's capital.
Tsvangirai is hemmed in by Mugabe's policemen, soldiers and ruling party thugs as well as the president's cozy relationship with fellow African leaders.
The round-faced, ever-affable Tsvangirai insists he is hopeful "As far as we are concerned we are nearer a resolution than we have ever been," he says but his options appear few.
He wants African leaders to guide negotiations on forming a coalition government to oversee a transition to democracy in Zimbabwe. While some leaders have publicly endorsed that idea, it is unclear how hard they will or can push Mugabe, who has ruled since independence in 1980.
Tsvangirai wants the African Union to send in peacekeepers. That, too, is unlikely, given the difficulties the body already is having with its stalled mission in Sudan's Darfur region, undertaken jointly with the United Nations. AU peacekeepers also are struggling in Somalia.
Tsvangirai, a 56-year-old former trade union leader, is on sensitive ground when he proposes outside help, as shown by his repeated clarifications that peacekeepers would not be tantamount to a military intervention. He risks being labeled a traitor at home, and leaders elsewhere in Africa might bristle at his perceived lack of sufficient nationalist sentiment.
While under pressure from Western governments and human rights activists to take a hard line, African leaders have long had close ties with the 84-year-old Mugabe, renowned as a campaigner against white rule and colonialism. Even those who can claim to be champions of democracy are reluctant to be seen as backing the West against a fellow African.
In an example of the lack of consensus, election observers sent by the main regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community, could not agree on how strongly to word their assessment of Friday's presidential runoff. Tsvangirai, who led a four-candidate field in the opening ballot three months ago, withdrew from the runoff June 22 because of vicious killings of supporters, leaving Mugabe to claim victory.
The bloc's statement said only that the latest vote was "not a true reflection of the will of the Zimbabwean people." Lawmakers who observed the vote under the auspices of the Pan-African Parliament, however, had no trouble declaring it not free, fair or legitimate.
Tsvangirai has called on the African Union to take over mediation that the southern bloc placed in the hands of South African President Thabo Mbeki more than a year ago. Tsvangirai says Mbeki's refusal to publicly criticize Mugabe betrays bias in Mugabe's favor.
While some African leaders have called for a change from Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy," it is unlikely that the African Union will show Mbeki disrespect by stripping him or the southern bloc of the mediation role.
Mugabe has said he is open to talks, and referred glowingly to Mbeki's efforts. Mugabe could be hoping any progress will be stalled in talks about how to hold talks.
Looking West doesn't bode much better for Tsvangirai.
President Bush wants the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and ban travel by Zimbabwe government officials, but building consensus could be difficult.
Diplomats do not expect the Security Council to go much further than last week's nonbinding resolution condemning violence against Zimbabwe's political opposition. South Africa, China and Russia oppose taking any further action.
The U.S., European nations and Australia have imposed limited sanctions on Zimbabwe, and they may strengthen them, though there are concerns tougher measures could hurt ordinary Zimbabweans already struggling with economic collapse. There is little sign of broader economic boycotts or the grass-roots campaigns that pressured apartheid-era South Africa.
Still, in a weekend interview, Tsvangirai argued it is Mugabe who is against the wall, saying the longtime leader's only choice amid international condemnation and Zimbabwe's dire economic woes is to negotiate a power-sharing deal.
"Where does he go from here?" Tsvangirai said. "He cannot solve the economic problem. He cannot solve 8 million percent inflation by continuing to be in this intransigent mood."