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Liberia's 'Charles Taylor Needs to Leave Now', says Bush - 2003-07-02

Just days before his first trip to Africa, President Bush is under increasing pressure to send U.S.troops to Liberia.

President Bush says he is exploring "all options" to help end the war in Liberia, including the possible use of U.S. troops.

Senior administration officials met for a second day to weigh the risks of sending U.S. soldiers to enforce a cease-fire with defense officials presenting a variety of options; from taking no action to deploying as many as 2,000 peacekeepers.

A U.S. defense official tells VOA there are several dozen Marines standing by at a base in Spain ready to go to Liberia if security around the U.S.embassy there deteriorates.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr. Bush again called for Liberian leader Charles Taylor to step down to prevent further bloodshed, as hundreds of people have died in the most recent fighting around the capital, Monrovia.

"In order for there to be peace and stability in Liberia, Charles Taylor needs to leave now," he said.

Mr. Taylor has refused to resign, in part, because he faces war crimes charges for his involvement in neighboring Sierra Leone. U.S. officials say those charges are not negotiable.

President Bush says Secretary of State Colin Powell is working closely with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to find the best way to bring peace to Liberia.

"We are concerned when we see suffering," said President Bush. "People are suffering there. The political instability is such that people are panicking. But the good news is there is a ceasefire in place now. And one of the things Colin is going to do is to work closely with the United Nations to see how best to keep the cease-fire in place."

West African leaders and European allies say U.S. soldiers are the best way to keep the peace. Regional leaders want President Bush to decide whether he will use troops in Liberia before his trip to Africa next week.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says there is no timetable for the decision as all options "remain under active consideration."