U.S. President George W. Bush said it may be necessary to deploy American troops to Liberia on a limited mission. But he emphasizes Liberian President Charles Taylor must leave before American forces go in as part of a multinational peacekeeping operation.
The president had a long talk about Liberia Monday with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has been pressuring the Bush administration to send troops to that war-torn west African nation.
Afterwards, they both said there was "a meeting of the minds." President Bush said he is still waiting for information from American military assessment teams on the ground. But he gave one of the strongest indications to date that he is likely to approve some sort of deployment, with Americans working in concert with troops from the Economic Community of West African states.
"We want to help ECOWAS. It may require troops but we don't know how many yet and therefore it is hard for me to make a determination until I have seen all the facts," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush said any U.S. deployment would be limited in size and scope. He said he would like to get a report from the assessment teams quickly so a decision can be made without further delay.
"As soon as possible is the answer. There have been two assessment teams out and about and we would like to get the information as soon as possible," he explained.
Mr. Bush stressed once again that nothing will happen until Charles Taylor abides by terms of a cease-fire and leaves the country. Secretary General Annan then provided a scenario for the days and months ahead, beginning with the deployment of an advance force made up of troops from ECOWAS member nations.
"After that, from what I gather, President Taylor would leave Liberia and then the force would be strengthened, hopefully with U.S. participation and additional troops from the West Africa region. Eventually U.N. blue helmets will be set up to stabilize the situation along the lines that we have done in Sierra Leone and once the situation is calmer, the U.S. will leave and U.N. peacekeepers would carry on," he said.
This was the first face-to-face meeting between the president and the secretary-general since last December, and it followed the rancorous Security Council debate earlier this year on Iraq. Now, the U.S. and the U.N. are going to some lengths to stress areas of cooperation, with Mr. Annan stressing his agreement with the Bush administration's handling of the Liberian crisis.
"I'm satisfied with the discussions we've had and the approach the government is taking. And of course there is an assessment team in West Africa, but we have more or less agreed to a general approach on the Liberian issue and I am very pleased with that," Mr. Annan said.
Both President Bush and Secretary General Annan were in Africa last week. Mr. Annan was in Mozambique while the president was in South Africa. Mr. Bush also visited Senegal, Uganda, Botswana and Nigeria. The Nigerians have played a key role in trying to bring peace to Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves in the 1800's.