Obama dangled White House visit to ease Ivorian row


US President Barack Obama offered to invite Laurent Gbagbo to the White House if he respected Ivory Coast’s election and stepped down, but has not received a response, says a White House official.

President Gbagbo, defying worldwide pressure to respect results that showed he lost to Alassane Ouattara, has declared himself the winner of last month’s ballot.

Obama wrote to Gbagbo on Friday as he flew back from Afghanistan after trying unsuccessfully to reach him by telephone from aboard Air Force One, Reuters reports.

The official said Obama offered to be the first world leader to praise Gbagbo’s decision if he stood aside, and would “invite him to the White House to discuss how to advance democracy in the region, laying out a role he could play.”

But Obama also warned in the letter, whose receipt was confirmed to Washington by a senior Gbagbo government official, that he would support efforts to isolate Gbagbo and hold him to account if he refused to step down.

The United States said earlier on Thursday it was weighing sanctions against Gbagbo’s family if he stayed in power, as the African Union suspended Ivory Coast amid concern election violence could spiral in the top world cocoa producer.
“We are in full agreement that Alassane Ouattara is the rightfully elected president of Cote d’Ivoire and that former President Laurent Gbagbo should respect the results of the election and peacefully transfer power,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

Ivory Coast was torn apart by a 2002-2003 civil war, and at least 28 people have died in election-related violence.
“Democracy is about more than just holding elections. It is about respecting the outcome of elections and the voice of the governed,” Clinton said during a news conference with Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia.