President Bush says he is still weighing whether to send U.S. troops to Liberia, but will do what is necessary to help bring stability to that war-torn country. Bush administration officials stress the first step must be the departure of Liberian President Charles Taylor.
President Bush says he has not made a decision about a peace-keeping force. But during an interview with VOA's Africa Division, he made clear something must be done to end the bloodshed.
"I have made up my mind that there needs to be stability in Liberia. And one of the conditions for a peaceful and stable Liberia is for Mr. Charles Taylor to leave the country," he said.
But Liberia's president has refused to step down, as called for under terms of a cease-fire agreement reached last month, and he has demanded war crimes charges against him be dropped. Mr. Bush said Secretary of State Colin Powell is working with the U.N. and regional leaders to help find a way to get President Taylor out of Liberia. He told VOA that his demand for Mr. Taylor's departure is firm.
"I'm not going to take 'no' for an answer," said Mr. Bush. "It is not only my voice, it is the voice of a lot of others saying the same thing. It is very important for us to be positive about having a good outcome."
President Bush was then asked if the United States has a moral obligation to help Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century. He emphasized that there are historical ties.
"Well, there is no question there is a unique relationship between Liberia and the United States and I suspect - I don't suspect, I know - that is why we are very much engaged in discussions about how to bring a peaceful and secure Liberia to be," he pointed out.
Those discussions are taking place through the U.N. and regional organizations in West Africa. President Bush's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said the talks have been positive. But she also indicated they are at a very delicate stage and will not provide details.
"I am not going to go into specifics about what is being discussed with Charles Taylor except to say there is broad agreement that he has done nothing to help his people and a lot to hurt his people and hurt the region," she said.
Ms. Rice also said that Charles Taylor is not part of the problem in Liberia, he is the problem. She says the bottom line is that until he gets out, there will be no end to the bloodshed, no matter how many peacekeepers are sent in.
All the same, Ms. Rice said President Bush is considering all his options and believes much is at stake in bringing peace to Liberia. She noted that stability in Liberia and the region is very much in America's national interest.
"This is a region that is only beginning to make some progress on being more stable," she stressed. "Its stability could be vital to progress on the continent, to which the president has devoted a lot of time and energy. He wants to see that go forward."
The United States has sent troops into Liberia twice before to protect American citizens in times of trouble, first in 1992 and 1996. The latest call for U.S. help came as Mr. Bush was preparing for his first visit as president to Africa.
He leaves Washington next Monday night on a five nation journey that will take him to Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria. While White House officials stress in public there is no timetable for a decision on Liberia, there are indications the administration would like to settle the matter before the trip begins.