, ABIDJAN, Jan 17 – Visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Ivory Coast’s president Tuesday that he could only cement peace in the war-torn country by pursuing dialogue across the political divide.
“This is a crucial moment in the history of Cote d’Ivoire. The country is making a steady and hopeful return to peace and security,” Clinton said after talks with Alassane Ouattara in the commercial capital Abidjan.
“Securing these gains — for Cote d’Ivoire and the region — will take hard work,” Clinton said at a joint press conference with Ouattara.
“In the months and years ahead, it will be especially important to include all voices, even dissenting ones, in political dialogue.”
Washington was one of Ouattara’s strongest supporters during the standoff with his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to quit after his defeat in a November 2010 election triggered unrest which left around 3,000 people dead.
Gbagbo is now in The Hague awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity for his alleged involvement in the violence.
Clinton is on the first visit to Ivory Coast by a senior US official since the end of the deadly political crisis, part of a tour of west Africa which has already taken her to Liberia and will include a visit to Togo and Cape Verde.
The main challenges facing Ouattara are the reform of the military and the establishment of law and order, at a time when there are still assaults on civilians by former rebels who backed him and are now integrated into the army.
While its main foreign partner is former colonial power France, Ivory Coast is keen to promote ties with other countries like China and the United States. Washington already provides assistance in the domain of security.
The US and Ivorian governments are keen to build up cooperation on issues such as piracy, drug trafficking and security, given the rise of armed Islamist groups in the arid Sahel region of west Africa.
The United States also has a strong interest in the cocoa sector, which is the backbone of the Ivorian economy and made it the leading economic power in west Africa. Ivory Coast is the world’s leading cocoa producer.
For the new Ivorian authorities, Clinton’s visit marks the country’s return to the international stage. “Cote d’Ivoire is back!” is the catchphrase among officials in Abidjan.
Government spokesman Bruno Kone said the visit by Clinton, who also met Foreign Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan and other officials, illustrates “the effectiveness of the new diplomacy in our country”.
Ouattara has close ties to the United States since he went to university there and also worked for the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.
The Ivorian leader was received in July last year by President Barack Obama at the White House, along with the presidents of Niger, Guinea and Benin, as part of a US policy of helping democratic regimes.