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Bush Calls Again for Charles Taylor's Departure From Liberia - 2003-07-02

President Bush is urging Liberia's embattled leader, Charles Taylor, to leave his country, possibly with help from one of Liberia's neighbors, in order to bring an end to the West African nation's civil war.

The White House could announce as early as Thursday what steps the United States is prepared to take to restore peace to the country founded by freed American slaves, including the possible deployment of U.S. troops.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has presented President Bush with military options for Liberia as the president issued another call for the Liberian leader to relinquish power and leave the country immediately.

"We're exploring all options as to how to keep the situation peaceful and stable," he said. "One thing has to happen, Mr. Taylor needs to leave the country. In order for there to be peace and stability in Liberia, Charles Taylor needs to leave now."

But as he prepares to leave for a trip to Africa next week, the sense around Washington Wednesday was that the administration was moving toward announcement of some form of action amid a chorus of calls from Liberia's neighbors, some of America's closest allies - and Liberians themselves - that nothing short of U.S. leadership could help resolve the Liberian crisis.

At the Pentagon, a military official says U.S. Marines based in Spain are on standby to go to Liberia's capital, Monrovia, should the U.S. embassy request more protection, or to help evacuate Americans. Those forces could arrive ahead of a larger contingent of U.S. troops should the president order them to the West African nation as part of a larger peace-keeping force.

At the same time, the Bush administration appears to be allowing a diplomatic initiative aimed at getting President Taylor to give up power to play out first. The Liberian leader has said he will not give up power as long as his indictment on war crimes charges issued by a U.N.- backed court in neighboring Sierra Leone remains backed up by an arrest warrant.

On a visit to the region to assess the situation, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told reporters in Ivory Coast regional power, Nigeria, which has intervened militarily in Liberia in the past, may be ready to offer the Liberian leader exile.

"Nigeria must make its own choices," he said. "We hope that whatever choices are made within the region or anywhere else, impunity for those who commit gross abuses of human rights in any situation will not be allowed."

The Nigerian government says it is expecting a visit by Liberia's foreign minister. Liberia's Defense Minister Daniel Chea would only say the Liberian leader, like the Bush administration, is not ruling out any options.