WASHINGTON – President Bush says he will not accept any outcome that allows Liberian President Charles Taylor, a one-time warlord wanted on war crimes charges, to remain in power in his embattled country.
African leaders have asked Bush to decide whether to send American troops to help bring stability to Liberia before he departs Monday for his trip to the continent. The White House gave no indication of a timetable for a presidential decision, although it said Bush did not feel bound by the deadline.
In the region, negotiations continued to persuade Taylor to relinquish power, as Bush and a growing number of world leaders are demanding.
Talks also were under way about the makeup of any international peacekeeping force to watch over a cease-fire between Taylor's government forces and rebel insurgents who have him cornered in his capital. White House officials said the president was still listening to advisers before he makes the final call on whether American troops should be a part of any peacekeeping effort.
Key in that process is the team of 10-15 experts being sent to Monrovia, Liberia's capital, to determine the most effective U.S. contribution. Lt. Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command, said the assessment team was being organized to deploy, but he said nothing about when they would leave or how long they would stay.
A Department of Defense spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the assessment team was to leave Sunday for the Liberian capital.
Bush said in a television interview that information from separate meetings between U.S. officials and the 15-country Economic Community of West African States also would be crucial to his decision. That bloc said Friday it would contribute 3,000 troops.
"That's very important information for me, the decision-maker on this issue, to understand what the recommendations might be," Bush said in an interview with the Voice of America, conducted Thursday and aired Saturday.
The White House would not comment on reports that Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was to meet with Taylor to discuss temporary asylum.
Bush leaves Monday for a five-day African trip, which includes a meeting with Obasanjo next Saturday during his stay in Nigeria. Bush won't visit Liberia, but his first stop is in nearby Senegal.
In the Voice of America interview, Bush stressed -- again -- that Taylor must abandon the presidency and said "I suspect he will" eventually agree to do so.
"I'm not going to take `no' for an answer," he said.
Meanwhile, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson added his voice to the many in the region, in Europe and at the United Nations pleading for American military intervention. He said Washington has an obligation to the country founded by freed American slaves, and the need for U.S. involvement in Liberia is more clear-cut than in past situations in other African countries, such as Somalia.
"Both parties, both the rebels and the Taylor forces, are inviting us in. That's different from an occupying relationship," said Jackson, who served President Clinton as a special envoy to Africa.
With the question of additional troop deployments pending, and U.S. soldiers arrayed in hotspots around the globe, Bush saluted the armed forces Saturday in his weekly radio address.
"All who live in tyranny, and all who yearn for freedom, place their hopes in the United States of America," he said. "Our people in uniform do not have easy duty, and much depends on their success."
In the Democrats' weekly radio address, Texas Rep. Ciro Rodriguez demanded improved government support for military veterans and their families.
"Providing affordable and accessible health care to our veterans," Rodriguez said, "is a responsibility that we simply cannot abandon."
Bush opened Saturday with a round of golf and avoided reporters eager to ask his thoughts on Liberia.
The president, treated the night before by his wife, Laura, to an early birthday party -- his 57th is Sunday -- was spending a rare weekend in Washington. Two of his closest and oldest friends, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and former Yale classmate Roland Betts, joined him for a steamy 18 holes on Andrews Air Force Base's golf course.