United States on Thursday called on Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to yield power to the internationally-recognized winner of last month's election, Alassane Ouattara, and threatened sanctions if he does not. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the political impasse in Ivory Coast with Nigerian Foreign Minister Henry Odein Ajumogobia at the State Department.
Clinton's remarks at a press event here with her Nigerian counterpart reflected growing international pressure on Mr. Gbagbo to accept the results announced by Ivory Coast's independent election commission and step aside.
"We are in full agreement that Alassane Ouattara is the rightfully elected president of Cote I'voire [Ivory Coast] and that former president Laurent Gbagbo should respect the result of the election and peacefully transfer power to his successor. [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama is personally involved," said Clinton. "He has sent a letter to President Gbagbo, urging him to step aside and warning him of consequences if he does not."
The State Department says those consequences might include targeted financial and travel sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo, his family and key supporters.
Clinton paid tribute to what she called the "commendable leadership" on Ivory Coast by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who convened a summit of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS. It suspended Ivory Coast's membership until Mr. Ouattara is sworn in as president.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Henry Odein Ajumogobia said that although the ECOWAS decision was unanimous, its practical impact will be limited.
"Under the ECOWAS protocol, the minutes on the sanctions that are available to us, the options, are limited to sanctions against the country. And we've done what we can do in this regard. But President Jonathan has made it clear that he will support, and the organization will support, any sanctions regime prescribed by the international community, the UN, the EU and the African Union," Ajumogobia said.
The Nigerian foreign minister said he assured Clinton that plans for his country's critical presidential election next year are "on track" and that his government is doing everything it can to assure that the vote is credible.
Nigeria's last election, in 2007, was faulted by international observers. The country was later plunged into political uncertainty when the late President Umaru Yar'Adua fell ill and left for medical treatment abroad for several months.
Clinton called the April presidential and legislative elections a "critical opportunity" for Nigerians to build an accountable government, and bridge ethic and religious divides. She said the United States stands ready to support the process.
Foreign Minister Ajumogobia said a key contribution would be job-creating U.S. investments in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, where he said the greatest threat to democracy is pervasive youth unemployment.