The United States is working on multiple fronts in an effort to halt the fighting in Liberia. U.S. diplomats have prepared a draft U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing deployment of a international peacekeeping force there, and are meeting with West African leaders in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, on moving a vanguard of Nigerian troops into the troubled country.
The U.S. draft resolution, which Bush administration officials hope will get speedy approval in the Security Council, would authorize deployment of a West African-led peacekeeping force to enforce a cease-fire and provide a secure environment for humanitarian aid to the Liberian people.
In a second phase, it would declare the United Nations' readiness to move rapidly on a follow on stabilization force involving the West African regional grouping ECOWAS and other countries that would cement the peace in the war-torn country.
President Bush outlined the plan at his White House news conference Wednesday, saying the ultimate aim of the two-step program is a return to stability and democracy in Liberia. He said, "The idea of course is to go in, stabilize the situation, get the NGOs moving back into their positions to be able to help deliver aid, and then work immediately with the United Nations to provide 'blue helmets,' maybe 'blue helmets' and some of the ECOWAS forces in place. And the United Nations would then take up the peacekeeping mission as well as the political mission in order to provide the framework for a transition to democracy. And hopefully that will help stabilize the situation. I think it will," he added.
Mr. Bush said the conditions for the peacekeeping deployment are the departure of Liberian President Charles Taylor and the establishment of a cease-fire.
He said again the United States will help the ECOWAS force deploy, but that the involvement of U.S. troops would be limited in number and duration.
The Bush administration's top African-affairs expert, Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner, has been dispatched to West Africa and will take part in Thursday's ECOWAS summit in Accra that will focus on Liberian peacekeeping.
Mr. Kansteiner was in the Guinean capital Conakry Wednesday where he urged authorities to crack down on cross-border weapons traffic into Liberia.
At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher warned the second-largest Liberian rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, MODEL, to halt an offensive that included the capture of the key port city of Buchanan earlier this week.
"We have been in touch with the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, and we have urged them in the strongest terms to cease their advance. Their continued advance beyond Buchanan would undermine all the efforts being made to deploy an international force and the efforts to reach a peace agreement. So we've been very clear to them that they're responsible for their actions and we expect them to cease their advance and abide by the cease-fire," Mr. Boucher said.
Mr. Boucher said both MODEL and the main Liberian rebel group LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, are only being asked to abide by cease-fire commitments they have made in the past and then broken.
He warned that their recent behavior could negatively affect the role they will have in deciding the country's political future.
In a Reuters interview, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he hoped that a battalion of Nigerian troops would leave Sierra Leone for Liberia "in the very near future" as the vanguard of the international peacekeeping effort.
He said that troop movement "is predicated" on the departure of Charles Taylor.