The United States is working to restore constitutional government in Mauritania following a coup August 3 in the oil-rich northwest African country, a State Department spokesman said August 4.
"At this point, we're working with the African Union and with the U.N.," State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey said at the department's daily press briefing in Washington. "We certainly are seeking a restoration to a constitutional government in Mauritania and we'll continue to put our focus there for now."
In a statement the previous day, Casey had condemned "the attempted overthrow of the government of Mauritania" and had called on the country's military and security forces "to avoid violence and the loss of innocent life."
Describing events on August 4, Casey said, "As I understand it, the situation on the ground is still fluid, but the Military Council for Justice and Democracy -- as it is calling itself -- appears to be in control in the capital."
News organizations have reported that on the morning of August 3, military officers, led by national police chief Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, took control of the presidential office, the state radio, the international airport and other major buildings in an apparently bloodless coup.
Mauritanian President Maaouyia Ould Taya was abroad attending the funeral on August 2 of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. Ould Taya was said to have landed in Niger on August 3, hours after soldiers took control of state radio and television in his home country.
Following is an excerpt of the August 4 State Department briefing that deals with the situation in Mauritania:
[U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing
Thursday, August 04, 2005
12:55 p.m. EST
Briefer: Tom Casey, Acting Spokesman]
QUESTION: Mauritania, do you have anything to report on today's meeting between the coup leader there and the U.S. Ambassador?
MR. CASEY: Let's see.
QUESTION: Was [a] coup involved?
MR. CASEY: Well, let me just step back a little bit and talk a little bit about where I understand the situation is. I think most of you saw her statement last night. The United States joins the African Union in condemning the overthrow of the Government of Mauritania and we oppose any attempts by rogue elements to change governments through extra constitutional or violent means.
As I understand it, the situation on the ground is still fluid, but the Military Council for Justice and Democracy -- as it is calling itself -- appears to be in control in the capital. Certainly, we intend to work closely with the African Union and the UN and other regional and international partners to restore constitutional rule to Mauritania as quickly as possible.
Ambassador [Joseph Evan] LeBaron, our ambassador in Nouakchott, has spoken with President Taya's chief of staff who is in Niger. President Taya, I think, as we mentioned yesterday, was attending the funeral of King Fahd and his plane diverted to Niger when news of the coup reached it and that is where he remains. The Ambassador was convoked for a meeting late this afternoon by the Foreign Ministry with leaders of the Council, but I don't have any readout on that meeting or any additional information at this time. And we'll endeavor to get something more for you on it.
QUESTION: Forgive my ignorance, "convoked"? Is there a particular diplomatic weight to that? What does it mean in diplomatic terms?
MR. CASEY: I think that -- in simple English, it means he was asked to come to the ministry.
QUESTION: Does he have to go? It's a request?
MR. CASEY: I don't believe there was use of force involved, no.
QUESTION: And he did go; is that correct?
MR. CASEY: That's -- my understanding was he was intending to do so, but I don't actually have a readout on it.
QUESTION: Even though he's our standing government official, these are -- coup (inaudible) officials, do you know? I mean they aren't the standing government.
MR. CASEY: Well, again, the request was made by the foreign ministry for him to come and meet with the Military Council of Justice and Democracy. That is an organ, as I understand it, of the Government in Mauritania and my understanding was he is intending to go meet with them.
QUESTION: Sorry, so when it's a request and this word convoked -- yes, he's not being escorted by anyone with arms, but is there some kind of threat involved in the request, that "You have to turn up, otherwise you" --
MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any threats involved in the request, no. Sorry, you want to let Saul follow-up?
QUESTION: Forgive me if I misunderstood. Has he met or is it that he's going to meet?
MR. CASEY: My understanding was he was going to. I don't have confirmation that they have and I will try and get that for you and (inaudible).
QUESTION: Can you explain the thought behind why you would decide to go meet someone who's organized a coup, as opposed to making a symbolic -- a statement that -- you know, we don't deal with you, you're not the constitutional government?
MR. CASEY: Really, Saul, at this point, I don't have anything more for you on it. I'll endeavor to get you something else.
QUESTION: So, how will the U.S. respond if its demands for the return to power of the president continue to be completely ignored?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I don't want to speculate. At this point, we're working with the African Union and with the UN. We certainly are seeking a restoration to a constitutional government in Mauritania and we'll continue to put our focus there for now.
Teri, did you - I'm sorry.
QUESTION: No, I was --
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros?
QUESTION: On the Balkans --
QUESTION: No, can I just --
MR. CASEY: Sir, you want to stay on this for a second Peter?
QUESTION: Yeah, just to stay on this for one second.
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: You say you want the return to a constitutional government. Yesterday, you said you wanted the return of the president. Are you still sticking to the return of the president?
MR. CASEY: The president is the head of the constitutional Government of Mauritania.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)