C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000566
NSC FOR JENDAYI FRAZER
LONDON FOR GURNEY
PARIS FOR NEARY
E.O.12958: DECL: 03/19/13
TAGS: PREL PGOV PARM SF SG IZ NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: PRESIDENT OBASANJO DISAVOWS HIS MINISTER'S
COMMENTS AND TALKS ABOUT THE IRAQ LETTER
REF: A) ABUJA 555
- B) ABUJA 551
- C) ABUJA 513
Classified by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter. Reason 1.5 (B).
Â¶1. (C) Summary: During a midnight March 21 meeting with
Ambassador Jeter, President Obasanjo distanced the GON from
Minister of State Onyia's accusation that the U.S. had cut
military assistance because of Nigeria's position on Iraq.
Obasanjo also expressed surprise at Washington's negative
reaction to the Obasanjo/Mbeki/Wade letter, claiming it merely
restated the GON's existing position. End Summary
ONYIA SUFFERS A BOUT OF FOOT IN MOUTH DISEASE
Â¶2. (C) During a midnight March 21 meeting with President
Obasanjo following Obasanjo's first Presidential debate,
Ambassador Jeter lodged a complaint regarding Minister of
State for Foreign Affairs Dubem Onyia's malicious statement to
Nigerian media that the United states had stopped military
assistance to Nigeria because of its Iraq policy. Ambassador
Jeter told Obasanjo that he had met Onyia earlier that day at
the Minister's request. Onyia, citing the March 20 meeting
between the Ambassador and MFA Permanent Secretary Dan Hart,
accused the USG of cutting military assistance because of
displeasure over Nigeria's position on Iraq. Onyia asserted
the United States, in trying to intimidate Nigeria, had also
affronted its sovereignty.
Â¶3. (C) The Ambassador explained to the President that he
clearly and unequivocally told Onyia the alleged nexus between
military assistance and Iraq was nonexistent. He told Onyia
the March 20 meeting with Hart was to brief the MFA PermSec on
the Mission's security posture, including the closure to
public traffic and of consular operations at both the Embassy
and Lagos Consulate, and to thank the GON for the outstanding
security support it had provided. The Ambassador also told
Onyia that, because he had not seen Hart for some time, he had
used the meeting to brief the Permanent Secretary on several
key issues, suspension of security assistance being just one
Â¶4. (C) The Ambassador also told the President that he had
assured Onyia that the assistance suspension was not related
to Iraq but was due to human rights concerns regarding the
October 2001 Zaki Biam massacres. Moreover, we had informed
Onyia that the President and Defense Minister were aware of
the suspension and reasons behind it because this issue had
been active for over a year.
Â¶5. (C) However, Jeter told the President that the Minister of
State apparently summoned the press immediately after the
meeting to issue his inaccurate statement, notwithstanding our
assurances to the contrary. Ambassador Jeter said he found
Onyia's conduct extremely disappointing. Not only was the
statement recklessly false, it could hurt our relations with
other African countries by casting the USG in a bad light and
could also foment resentment in Nigeria toward the United
Â¶6. (C) After hearing the Ambassador's explanation, Obasanjo
turned to his Special Advisor on International Affairs Ad'obe
Obe, declaring, "My God, is that what this is all about?" The
evening of March 20, Onyia had rushed to the Villa claiming
Washington was "subtly blackmailing" Abuja due to Nigeria's
stance on Iraq, Obasanjo revealed. Based on Onyia's
accusation, Obasanjo instructed him to convoke the Ambassador.
"I don't take blackmail very well," Obasanjo remarked.
However, if he had known the fillip behind the accusation was
the assistance suspension, he would have bridled the Minister
of State. The suspension was old news and completely unrelated
to Iraq, Obasanjo stated. Uncharacteristically, Obasanjo even
apologized for Onyia's blunder and mismanagement of the issue.
(Comment: Much less kind, Adobe earlier called the Ambassador
with the exclamation: "What is Dubem doing? This time I think
he's gone over the edge." End Comment).
Â¶7. (C) Asserting that the GON would publicly correct the
record, Obasanjo instructed Obe to have Foreign Minister Sule
Lamido make a public statement retracting Onyia's error.
(COMMENT: As of 1800 on March 24, the Mission is not aware of
any correction of the record undertaken by the GON, but some
newspapers over the March 22-23 weekend carried the Embassy's
statement on the subject. END COMMENT).
I THOUGHT YOU WOULD LIKE MY LETTER
Â¶8. (C) Turning to his tripartite letter with Mbeki and Wade,
Obasanjo expressed surprise about the White House's reaction.
For Nigeria, the letter simply restated existing policy that
Iraq should fully disarm as a condition precedent to the
withdrawal of coalition troops. Obasanjo thought he actually
performed a favor for Washington by persuading Mbeki to take a
more moderate position than would have been the South
African's natural inclination. Moreover, the letter was not
sent as the "African position" but as the position of three
individual Heads of State.
Â¶8. (C) Obasanjo's described President Wade's role in the
entire affair as that of a mercurial, unreliable partner. Wade
heartily agreed to the initial letter, and even suggested it,
only to send an alternative letter two days later and one day
after the originals had been transmitted to President Bush and
Saddam. Wade's excuse was that, upon his return to Dakar from
Niamey, his advisors convinced him the letter should not have
been signed. "When I sign a letter, I sign a letter. I am my
own boss and I thought he was his; if not, that is his
problem, not mine," Obasanjo scoffed.
Â¶9. (C) Obasanjo said he would like to put the disagreement
with Washington over the letter behind him. The war is on and
will have to run its course, while he has a full menu of
pressing domestic issues, Obasanjo acknowledged. While wanting
to relegate the letter to history, the President mentioned,
however, that he was troubled by a telephone call from a White
House official about the tripartite letter. He claimed the
official spoke harshly and "harangued" him. He thought it
untoward that the official would talk to him so brusquely when
the letter, he believed, was moderate in tone and substance.
Â¶10. (C) Comment: Given the friction caused by the tripartite
letter and Onyia's willful distortion of our reaction to
Nigeria's Iraq policy, Obasanjo seemed ready to end his foray
into active diplomacy on Iraq. With the battle for Iraq now
on, he also realizes, if he did not before, that his words
would have little effect at this point. We expect that he will
eventually get the Foreign Minister to publicly correct
Onyia's mistake. After that, Obasanjo will do well to take
his own advice and focus on his bevy of problems at home.