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January 02, 2011

US Willing to Help Ivory Coast's Gbagbo Make 'Dignified Exit'

As West African leaders press Ivory Coast's incumbent president to cede power to the winner of the country's recent presidential election, a U.S. official says Washington is willing to help Laurent Gbagbo make a "dignified exit."  But, State Department officials say Mr. Gbagbo has shown no signs of leaving Ivory Coast.

West African mediators had little luck in convincing Mr. Gbagbo to step down Monday, despite international pressure for him to do so.  Presidents from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, met with Mr. Gbagbo Monday in Abidjan.

Back in Washington, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that the U.S. is in contact with officials in the region.

"We hope that President Gbagbo will listen intently to the message that he needs to step down," said P.J. Crowley. "So far, he hasn't.  But we certainly endorse what ECOWAS is trying to do today."

This was the second time in a week that presidents from Benin, Cape Verde and Sierra Leone met with Mr. Gbagbo. They were joined Monday by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Crowley said U.S. officials are monitoring the situation on the ground in Abidjan, and they have taken steps to protect U.S. diplomats.

"We evaluate the safety and security of our embassy," he said. "We've winnowed down the number of officials at our embassy.  But we're in touch with a range of governments, and we continue to have a unified message to President Gbagbo that his time has come."

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Monday that a number of countries have offered Mr. Gbagbo a place to go, but there have been no indications that Mr. Gbagbo is ready to leave Ivory Coast.  The official said if Mr. Gbabgo wanted to come to the United States, Washington would entertain that notion as a means of resolving the situation.

The official said Mr. Gbabgo's window of opportunity to act is rapidly closing.

U.S. officials confirm that that there has been written communication with Mr. Gbagbo, who has refused phone calls and declined to see the U.S. ambassador.  

Crowley said he assumed Mr. Gbagbo has refused such a meeting because he "doesn't want to listen to good advice."

ECOWAS and the African Union have recognized former prime minister Alassane Ouattara as Ivory Coast's newly elected president.  Mr. Gbagbo contends that foreign governments are plotting against him.