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Bush Meets with New Liberian Leader


President Bush has met for the first time with the new president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. They discussed many issues, including the fate of former Liberian president and rebel leader Charles Taylor.

President Sirleaf says it is crucial to bring Charles Taylor to justice.

"I wish we had the luxury of time on this issue, but it has become an impediment to our being able to move forward, to pursue our development agenda," she said.

Taylor is living in exile in Nigeria, and associates say he is warning of bloodshed if he is extradited to face war crimes charges before a special tribunal set up in Sierra Leone.

Speaking to reporters as she left the White House, President Sirleaf defended her decision to seek his extradition. She said it is essential if Liberia is to recover from the damage caused by years of civil war.

"It is a known fact that Mr. Taylor continues to have people operate in our country, that he does, in fact, have business operations in our country, and the longer we wait for this matter to have closure, the more difficult it will be for us to move forward as a nation and a people," she added.

Mrs. Sirleaf said Nigerian officials are now holding consultations with other African leaders who helped draft the arrangements that sent Charles Taylor into exile. She said they must decide on the timing and conditions for his extradition, adding he will then receive a free and fair trial with the full right of self-defense.

She said she discussed the matter with President Bush.

"President Bush only said that he too would consult with the African leaders so that a fair decision is taken that would ensure not only the stability of Liberia is secure, but the Liberian people can move ahead and have a new life, and also that the conditions on which the African leaders have agreed for Mr. Taylor will be respected," she explained.

Neither Mrs. Sirleaf nor President Bush mentioned Charles Taylor when reporters were ushered into the Oval Office for the last few minutes of their talks. Mr. Bush said his discussions with President Sirleaf dealt with development, education and regional conflicts. He was also lavish in his praise of the new Liberian leader, who is the first female elected head of state in Africa. He called her a "pioneer."

"And that requires courage and vision and the desire to improve the lives of your people. And I congratulate you on that," said Mr. Bush.

President Sirleaf said her country will work hard to justify U.S. support for its reconstruction

"Liberia is going to do all it can to justify the confidence that you have given us," she noted. "Liberia, we think, has the potential to become the U.S. success story in Africa."

The White House meeting came at the end of President Sirleaf's weeklong visit to the United States. It was followed by a formal luncheon attended by dignitaries from both the United States and Liberia, including members of the extended Sirleaf family who live in America

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