U.S. im­poses sanc­tions to press Ivory Coast leader to step aside

Stand­off threat­ens to reignite civil war in West African coun­try

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY MARY BETH SHERI­DAN sheri­danm@wash­post.com

The U.S. govern­ment is step­ping up pres­sure on the leader of Ivory Coast to leave of­fice, im­pos­ing new sanc­tions af­ter ap­peals by Pres­i­dent Obama and Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton failed to re­solve an elec­tion cri­sis that is turn­ing in­creas­ingly bloody.

The stand­off in the African nation threat­ens to reignite a civil war that killed thou­sands of peo­ple in 2002 and 2003. In ad­di­tion, Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials worry that a botched elec­tion could set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent, with Africans in sev­eral other coun­tries set to go to the polls this year.

The Trea­sury Depart­ment an­nounced the new sanc­tions Thurs­day, as Pres­i­dent Lau­rent Gbagbo con­tin­ued to refuse to hand off power to his old ri­val, Alas­sane Ou­at­tara, who has been in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized as the win­ner of theNov. 28 elec­tion.

The mea­sures freeze U.S. prop­erty be­long­ing to Gbagbo, his wife and three of his ad­vis­ers, and pro­hibit Amer­i­cans from do­ing busi­ness with them. Such ac­tions have an echo ef­fect in­ter­na­tion­ally, since ma­jor fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions of­ten sus­pend deal­ings with U.S.-des­ig­nated tar­gets.

The sanc­tions fol­low a U.S. ban on travel by Gbagbo and his as­so­ci­ates, and sim­i­lar tar­geted mea­sures by Euro­pean and African coun­tries.

“Es­sen­tially what we’ve wanted to present from the be­gin­ning of the cri­sis . . . is a choice, so on the one hand, [Gbagbo] sees there’s a way out for him, should he choose to do the right thing and step down,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser for strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “If he doesn’t, there is go­ing to be a steady ratch­et­ing up of pres­sure.”

At least 200 peo­ple have been killed in post-elec­tion vi­o­lence, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

Ou­at­tara is holed up at a ho­tel in the coun­try’s busi­ness cap­i­tal, Abid­jan, pro­tected by U.N. peace­keep­ers.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has been un­usu­ally united on the Ivory Coast cri­sis. The 16-nation West African group known as ECOWAS has threat­ened mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion if Gbagbo doesn’t step down, and the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil sent a pow­er­ful sig­nal by rec­og­niz­ing his ri­val’s vic­tory.

None of that, how­ever, has moved the re­cal­ci­trant Ivo­rian. And on Fri­day, the pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion seemed to di­min­ish as Ghana said it couldn’t con­trib­ute troops.

“The prob­lem is, the U.S. and ev­ery­body else can do ev­ery­thing right, but if Gbagbo is will­ing to bring the coun­try down around him and re­launch a con­flict, he can prob­a­bly do that,” said Jen­nifer G. Cooke, di­rec­tor of the Africa pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Most non hu­man­i­tar­ian U.S. aid to Ivory Coast was sus­pended af­ter a 1999 coup. Washington has sought to work with Euro­pean and African coun­tries, the United Na­tions and in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to pres­sure Gbagbo to step down.

The fi­nan­cial noose could fur­ther tighten at an up­com­ing meet­ing of the Cen­tral Bank of West African States, which han­dles the cur­rency used by Ivory Coast.

A de­ci­sion could be taken on which of the two de­clared pres­i­dents “gets to con­trol Cote D’Ivoire’s cur­rency,” said a State Depart­ment of­fi­cial, us­ing the coun­try’s French name. The of­fi­cial was not au­tho­rized to com­ment on the record.

The Novem­ber elec­tion was sup­posed to re­solve years of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity that fol­lowed the north-south civil war. Gbagbo has been in of­fice for a decade, stay­ing on be­yond a man­date orig­i­nally set to ex­pire in 2005.

Obama tried un­suc­cess­fully to call Gbagbo twice af­ter the elec­tion. In early De­cem­ber, Obama sent a let­ter invit­ing Gbagbo to Washington to dis­cuss his fu­ture and warn­ing of con­se­quences if he clung to power, aides say.

A more de­tailed let­ter from Clin­ton fol­lowed, sug­gest­ing Gbagbo could move to the United States or re­ceive a po­si­tion in an in­ter­na­tional or re­gional in­sti­tu­tion if he left peace­fully, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials. Sim­i­lar in­duce­ments were of­fered by France and other African coun­tries.

“ They’re not end­less,” the State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said of the of­fers. “ The more that things on the ground turn ugly . . . you can’t ig­nore that.” Staff writer Greg Jaffe con­trib­uted to this re­port.


Sup­port­ers rally in Abid­jan for Pres­i­dent Lau­rent Gbagbo, who has re­fused to cede power to Alas­sane Ou­at­tara, in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized win­ner of the Nov. 28 elec­tion in Ivory Coast.

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