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In VOA Interview, Bush Says No Decision Made Yet On Sending US Troops to Liberia - 2003-07-04

U.S. military commanders have prepared a range options for the possible deployment of American troops to the West African nation of Liberia.

President Bush says he has not yet made a decision about whether to intervene militarily, but he is suggesting progress has been made in getting Liberia's President Charles Taylor, blamed for instigating wars across West Africa, to agree to give up power.

The White House is reviewing a range of options for the possible deployment of U.S. troops to Liberia, everything from a full-blown peace keeping operation involving as many as several thousand personnel to the dispatch of a much smaller force that could safeguard Americans and the U.S. embassy in Monrovia.

A decision is expected shortly. But as he prepares to make his first trip to Africa as president, Mr. Bush tells VOA he has not yet made a final decision about whether to send American forces into another conflict zone, while waiting to hear back from Liberia's neighbors.

"As to what the nature of a so-called peacekeeping force might look like. And that's very important information for me, the decision-maker on this issue to understand what the recommendations might be. I've yet to get those recommendations but I expect I will in the next couple of days," he said.

The Pentagon has already trained troops from some of Liberia's neighbors as peace keepers and some have been dispatched to secure the Liberian capital during previous spasms of violence. Still, angry Liberians, who look to the United States as their protector, took to the streets of Monrovia Thursday demanding that American troops come and end more than a decade of on again, off again war blamed for the deaths of at least several hundred thousand people.

On Thursday, President Bush and other administration officials were keeping up the pressure on Liberian President Taylor, holding to the view that regardless of whether the United States intervenes militarily, peace can not come to the West African nation until he gives up power.

"I suspect he will and so therefore I'm an optimistic person and I'm not going to take 'no' for an answer," said Mr. Bush.

The country founded by freed American slaves had long been one of America's closest African allies. But in 1989, Charles Taylor, then a rebel leader, invaded from Ivory Coast and began a civil war that pushed the country and then the region into instability. He's now been indicted by a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal for crimes committed during another civil war he allegedly supported in Sierra Leone.

Any plan to exile him would be complicated by a warrant for his arrest. But National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says discussions are now under way involving the United Nations, hinting a deal could be reached that might spare the Liberian leader the charges in exchange for him agreeing to give up power.

"There are obviously sensitive discussions going on right now and I don't want to get into details of them," she said.

But in another sign of pressure on the administration to act, former president Jimmy Carter, who helped mediate many conflicts in Africa, added his voice to those calling for direct U.S. intervention in Liberia, saying American leadership is critical for creating long- term stability there.