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Rice Meets President-Elect of Liberia, Urges Reconciliation

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Thursday with Liberian President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Ms. Rice's spokesman urged national reconciliation in Liberia after last month's election, which was marred by fraud charges.

Bush administration officials were delighted that the November 8 Liberian election was conducted peacefully, given that country's turbulent recent history.

They are now urging national reconciliation in the aftermath of the vote, the results of which are still being disputed by followers of the defeated candidate, former football star George Weah.

The U.S. appeal followed a 40-minute meeting between Secretary Rice and Liberian President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank executive whose brief Washington visit also included talks with international lending agencies.

In a written statement, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack Secretary Rice congratulated Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf on her election, which she said provides Liberians with a "historic opportunity" to build a just, democratic and prosperous new Liberia."

Mr. McCormack said the United States urges all Liberians to work together to build a peaceful country, and that all factions should avoid incitement or recourse to violence.

He said in the interests of national reconciliation, the incoming government should address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of all Liberians, especially those who have historically been disenfranchised.

Mr. Weah contends he was robbed of victory by election fraud and his supporters staged violent protests earlier this week.

In a brief talk with reporters after the State Department meeting, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf said she still hopes Mr. Weah and his followers will come to terms with the election outcome. "(It's)unfortunate that Mr. Weah's action marred a truly historic and free and transparent elections that represents the peoples' victory. But we think he'll come around, overcome his disappointment, and work with us in the interests of our country," she said.

Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf said she reviewed for the Secretary of State her plans for rebuilding a country wracked by more than a decade of political violence, and said Ms. Rice promised continued U.S. support for those objectives.

She said they also discussed the case of exiled former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was given refuge in Nigeria in 2003 as part of a deal to end civil warfare, but still faces war crimes charges by a U.N. backed court in Sierra Leone.

Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf gave no details but said she believes a solution will be found to the Taylor case that in her words "keeps Liberia safe and at the same time preserves justice."

On Wednesday, the group Human Rights Watch, backed by a bipartisan group of 13 members of the U.S. Congress, said Secretary Rice should make clear to Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf that the United States would support a request to Nigeria by her government for Mr. Taylor to be turned over for prosecution.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has thus far resisted calls for the handover of Mr. Taylor but has indicated he would consider such a move upon request of a duly-elected Liberian government.

Human Rights Watch said a U.S. endorsement would strengthen Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf's hand in taking what it termed "this crucial step" once she takes office next month.

Charles Taylor has been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for supporting rebels who killed, raped and mutilated thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone's 1990s civil conflict.