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UN, African Neighbors Have Main Responsibility in Liberia, Argues US Official - 2003-07-28

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has rejected criticism that the United States is not doing enough to stop the bloodshed in Liberia. However, Mr. Wolfowitz says the United States wants the United Nations and Liberia's neighbors to take the lead in dealing with the civil war.

Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz spoke on Fox television Sunday as rebel forces continued their assault on Liberia's capital, Monrovia, in a bid to oust President Charles Taylor. Mr. Wolfowitz said Washington is not, in his words, "hanging back from assisting" in resolving the conflict, but he said the United States cannot intervene in all the hot spots around the globe.

"It is very important, if we are going to succeed in dealing with a large number of unstable places in the world, that countries of the region - in this case Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, who have the capability and have expressed the will to do this job, be in the lead and that the U.N. be in the lead in dealing with the complex political problem of Liberia," he said.

President Bush last week ordered a U.S. amphibious assault ship carrying U.S. Marines to positions off the coast of Liberia. Mr. Wolfowitz said President Bush has made clear U.S. troops are there to assist other countries sending peacekeepers to Liberia, and that Mr. Taylor needs to step down as leader of Liberia. "What the president has said is we are there to assist the United Nations and the countries of West Africa to stabilize the situation, to avert a humanitarian disaster. And as part of that, it's necessary to get Charles Taylor to leave the country and for the U.N. to begin a political process," he said. "But the president has emphasized repeatedly, our job is to set the conditions for other people to step up to their responsibilities."

While saying the United States is doing its part to resolve the Liberian conflict, Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz stopped short of saying U.S. troops would participate directly in a peacekeeping mission in the West African nation. For his part, President Taylor has repeatedly vowed to step down once international peace-keepers are in place.