Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara says he has until July 2020 to announce whether he will be a candidate for the next presidential elections, in an exclusive interview with RFI in Addis Ababa during the African Union Summit - his first public comments since the resignation of his speaker of parliament, Guillaume Soro.
President Alassane Ouattara said there was no suggestion that strained relations with Guillaume Soro were the cause of his departure, putting it down to a difference in ideology with by his side since the early 2000s.
Soro, the former rebel leader of the New Forces, is a Marxist - says Outtara while himself and his party, the ruling RHDP coalition - the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace - believes in social liberalism.
"I hold Guillaume Soro in high esteem. I consider him to be one of my sons - you know, I have many sons," said Ouattara. "If he now wants to pursue a career according to his political ideologies, which are not liberal ones, then he is free to do so.
"I did not force him to resign. We had some good meetings and he told me that he wanted to take some time off and was thinking of going to Harvard University for an MBA course. We'll see afterwards. He is welcome to come back home."
Ouattara added that he would not stand in the way of anyone vying for the presidency in 2020, and 46-year-old Soro would be free to do as he wishes.
Soro refuses to join the RHDP party
Soro addressed the National Assembly in Abidjan on 8 February to deliver his resignation. He said following three meetings with President Ouattara in January, he had no choice but to resign in order to keep peace in Cote d'Ivoire.
The speaker said he was given the choice of either joining the ruling RHDP coalition or stepping down. Refusing to resign would have meant an institutional crisis, which Soro said he did not want for Côte d'Ivoire.
"I chose not to join the RHDP," said Soro. "This was seen as a great mistake by some of my peers. It was not to defy them but to be true to what I believe in, my values and my conscience.
"I face a dilemma: attend the RHDP congress and betray my convictions and while preserving a comfortable position. Or resign and still be able to look myself in the mirror.
"Refusing to resign involves risking a fragile peace, earned at the cost of much suffering. This was unthinkable for me. I firmly believe in pardon, reconciliation and peace," Soro told the Ivorian National Assembly.
Gbagbo back in Côte d'Ivoire?
The International Criminal Court acquitted former President Laurent Gbagbo of charges of crimes against humanity on 15 January.
Ouattara declined to comment on the issue saying the case was not concluded, in reference to the appeal by ICC prosecutors, but added that he hopes justice will be served for the thousands who died during the country's post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011
"After all, someone must be held responsible for the 3,000 dead," he said.
Ouattara also refuted suggestions that he may have played a hand in the arrest of the former president, accusations that hinged on alleged links with the former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
He said he hardly knew Moreno-Ocampo and only spoke to him once or twice over the phone.
Ouattara added that to comment on Gbagbo's return to Cote d'Ivoire would be speculation, "castles in Spain".
Gbagbo was convicted in absentia last year by an Ivorian court to 20 years in prison on charges of misusing funds from the Central Bank of West African States
The Ivorian government has not said if it will enforce the sentence, with Ouattara saying they will advise when the time comes.
Bédié 'not a threat'
Henri Konan Bédié and his Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI) party left the government last year in August. He wants to rally opposition forces to oppose Ouattara's RHDP.
But Ouattara is not convinced that Bédié's idea of an opposition platform, rallying parties with different ideologies, will work.
He laughed off the suggestion that the PDCI is a strong party to be reckoned with.
"The PDCI of the past is not the same as the PDCI of today. As for me, I have been elected by 83 per cent in free and fair elections. There are very few people who are not satisfied with my politics," declared Ouattara.
Looking forward to the next elections, Ouattara said the new constitution allows him to be a candidate in the 2020 presidential vote, but that he would not commit to any firm response right now. He says he has up until 3 months before the October elections to do so.
He also said he welcomes change and is ready to pass the baton to someone younger.
Ouattara is satisfied that his track record is spotless with Cote d'Ivoire reaching an economic growth of eight percent and an inflation rate of no more than two percent.
For Ouattara, Cote d'Ivoire under his rule is doing very well and recording progress "in all sectors".