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COTE D'IVOIRE: Pressure from Washington and Paris - Briefing

DAKAR, 7 January 2011 (IRIN) - IRIN has produced a series of briefings exploring the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire triggered by contested elections in November 2010. Both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara are laying claim to the presidency, with Gbagbo refusing to yield to international pressure to step down. The series takes a look at the UN’s position, issues of human rights, as well as the stances of the African Union, ECOWAS, western governments and the EU and World Bank.

The United States – the word from Washington

The decision by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to prohibit Laurent and Simone Gbagbo and three of their close associates from conducting financial or commercial transactions, “isolating them from the US financial system”, is supposed to help persuade Gbagbo to step down.

The assets’ freeze follows on from travel restrictions imposed on Gbagbo and others by the State Department on 21 December.

Senior figures in the administration of Barak Obama from the president down have become increasingly critical of Gbagbo in the weeks since the announcement of the election results. While the count was still going on in Abidjan, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, speaking as president of the Security Council, pointedly reminded Ivoirian leaders “that they bear primary responsibility for ensuring a peaceful process”.

As the political deadlock worsened in Abidjan, State Department spokesmen, departmental chiefs, congressional Africa-watchers and others hardened their criticism of Gbagbo. Obama himself warned: “The international community will hold those who are out to thwart the democratic process and the will of the electorate accountable for their elections.”

Former Bill Clinton associate Lanny Davis abandoned a lucrative public relations contract with Laurent Gbagbo after just two weeks in the face of extensive criticism.

Often seen by Gbagbo’s supporters as a useful counterweight to French influence in Abidjan, the USA has been accused by Gbagbo himself of partnering France in a conspiracy to get him out and Ouattara in.

But while now treating Gbagbo as a pariah, the USA has been an important and not over-critical economic partner for Côte d’Ivoire. There are substantial US interests in cocoa and oil; Gbagbo paid a high profile visit to New York in September 2007; while consultancy firms worked hard to broker closer ties between the USA and Côte d’Ivoire, including setting up a bi-partisan “Cote d’Ivoire Caucus” in Congress.

What is France's position?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has led calls from Europe for Gbagbo to give way while emphasizing that France does not intend to intervene militarily. Sarkozy has issued a series of warnings, directed at both Laurent and Simone Gbagbo. "It is up to him to choose the role he wants in history," Sarkozy said of the options left for Gbagbo.

Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie has been equally forthright. Alliot-Marie was minister of defence under Jacques Chirac when the French military destroyed Côte d'Ivoire's military air force, a retaliatory operation sanctioned by Chirac after an airstrike on a French base killed nine French military personnel and one American. Alliot-Marie was unapologetic in overseeing a strong French military response in the face of mass demonstrations and anti-French rioting.

Current Defence Minister Alain Juppé has stressed that "France will not take the initiative in a military intervention" and that the 900-strong Licorne Force is there to protect French nationals.

More on the crisis
 Back to square one
 Political impasse sparks food price hikes
 The UN's mission impossible?
 Wounds reopened - the price of breakdown
 Countdown to deadlock
As in previous periods of crisis, there has been much conjecture about France’s behind-the-scenes role. Gbagbo’s supporters take it as read that France would do everything in its power to get Ouattara into the presidential palace, and retain strong suspicions that the former rebel movement the Forces Nouvelles were, at least in part, a French creation. The arrival in Ouagadougou of former Licorne commander Frédéric Beth as French ambassador to Burkina Faso also generated a lot of speculation.

But with so much ill-feeling directed at the UN, France has become almost a secondary adversary.

Gbagbo’s own relationship with France goes well beyond simple, raw antipathy. While many former allies have urged him to step down, there are still pockets of support for him in the French Socialist Party and elsewhere. Former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and veteran lawyer Jacqus Vergès visited Abidjan with the apparent intention of embarrassing France and other parties wanting Gbagbo out.

Côte d’Ivoire remains France’s biggest trading partner in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and its fourth-biggest in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 140 subsidiaries of major French companies in Côte d’Ivoire. The turnover of French companies is an important component of Côte d’Ivoire’s GDP.

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Sources: OFAC, US State Department, White House, US Embassy, Abidjan, French Embassy, Abidjan, AFP

Theme (s): Conflict, Economy, Governance, Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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