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Bush Weighs Deployment of Peacekeepers to Liberia - 2003-07-06

U.S. President George W. Bush is still weighing whether to send American peacekeepers to Liberia. America's top military officer says if he does send in troops, their mission will be of relatively short duration.

The president is said to be considering a number of military options, from increasing embassy security in Monrovia to leading an international peacekeeping operation in Liberia.

General Richard Myers says Mr. Bush is firm on one point: Liberian President Charles Taylor must abide by terms of a cease-fire and give up power.

"He has not done Liberia any good," said General Myers. "He has not been helpful to the surrounding countries."

During an appearance on the Fox News Sunday television program, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was asked if the United States would act unilaterally in Liberia. He said Washington could act alone to evacuate U.S. citizens, but wants a multi-lateral approach with countries in the region playing a major role in solving the Liberian crisis.

"Well, we are always prepared in case of U.S. citizens - our folks who are on official duty in the embassy and so forth - to do a non-combatant evacuation of those individuals. Beyond that, I think we would really like to see the states in the region help with this particular problem," said the general.

General Myers cautioned no decision has been made by the president, but said any deployment would hopefully be "of short duration." He said the U.S. military would not remove President Taylor. "No, I do not think that would be one of our options," he said.

There have been calls abroad for a significant deployment of U-S troops, perhaps as many as 2,000, to lead an international peace-keeping force. President Bush has indicated he is sympathetic to the pleas, citing America's unique historical relationship with Liberia, which was founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves.

The president has emphasized he will not be rushed into a decision. A key Senator says lawmakers should also take steps to learn all they can about the situation in Liberia, saying the United States could soon send troops to a very dangerous place.

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Virginia Republican John Warner said the risks are high. Senator Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an ally of the president, said congress should get a say.

"It is a presidential decision," conceded Senator Warner. "But I would say to the Senate leadership and, most respectfully, to the president, I would want a vote in the congress before we begin to commit substantial forces into that region."

Mr. Warner said because he heads the Armed Services panel he has had access to highly classified information on Liberia. He said the Senate leadership should make those intelligence reports available to all members, saying it is essential before American troops are again put in harm's way.