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Taylor Asks U.S. for Assurances

Aired July 4, 2003 - 20:10   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We move on right now to another international hot spot. Liberia. Despite calls from President Bush and other world leaders to step down immediately, embattled Liberian president, Charles Taylor, is standing firm, at least on some counts. While a bloody civil war in his country rages on, Mr. Taylor says he wants assurances before he goes anywhere. CNN's Jeff Koinange has more.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Songs of hope for a hopeless land. Liberia's embattled president, Charles Taylor, joins church leaders in singing hymns Friday, even as the pressure mounts for him to step down and leave office. He may be praying for a miracle to stay on as president for a little longer, but that's looking less and less likely as the U.S. insists he has to step down sooner rather than later.

CHARLES TAYLOR, PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA: Stepping down from office, leaving a void with no international peacekeepers here. There is no orderly transition for that stepping down. Could be extremely chaotic.

KOINANGE: The chaos could come from too many guns in the hands of militias who might view Mr. Taylor's exit as a signal to plunder and destroy an already decimated country.

TAYLOR: The important thing here is for international peacekeepers to come to Liberia as quickly as possible, take charge of a situation. If I'm going step down from office, that there will be no problems after that stepping down occurs.

KOINANGE: As for the asylum issue offered by Nigeria's government, Mr. Taylor prefers to call it by a different name.

TAYLOR: What we have not been talking about it, asylum. We're talking about trying to have some soft landing in Liberia.

KOINANGE: At the U.S. embassy here, muted celebrations of America's Independence Day. These are uncertain times in America's former colony.

JOHN BLANEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO LIBERIA: Americans here know well that Liberia is going through a time of deep trouble, and much pain. And our American leaders at home know about Liberia's pain and want to help an old friend. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KOINANGE: Now, Anderson, the White House welcomes this latest move by Mr. Taylor to step down. But insists he has to follow through on that asylum offer. We'll know more about that this coming Sunday as Nigeria's president comes to town to speak further on this offer with the embattled Liberian president. Anderson?

COOPER: Jeff, so it is likely if he was to step down, it seems inevitable that he would have to leave Liberia, probably end up in Nigeria, is that correct?

KOINANGE: That is correct. If everything is set, he will go. He says if the peacekeepers do come tomorrow, he will leave the next day. He doesn't want to leave unless the peacekeepers are on the ground because he insists there will be a power vacuum. There is too many people with too many guns in the streets. They will turn the guns on the local population and it will be literally a free for all in the streets of Monrovia, Anderson.

COOPER: All right Jeff Koinange, appreciate your report. So how is the White House reacting to Mr. Taylor's remarks. I'm joined live from Washington by CNN senior White House correspondent, John King. John, basically President Taylor is throwing this back at the White House, saying, yes, send in peacekeepers and then I'll step down. The White House obviously saying he has to step down first. How are they -- how is the administration reacting now.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cautious optimism, Anderson. And they're being flexible, suddenly, here at the White House in an effort to get President Taylor out. You're dead right in saying yesterday President Bush said Taylor leaves, then the troops go in. Today the White House says it is now flexible on that point as long as there is an iron clad commitment for President Taylor to leave the country.

What we are being told here is look for a West African peacekeeping force to go in first. President Taylor to leave, and then perhaps U.S. troops to follow in to help with that deployment. President Bush, today, dispatched an advanced Pentagon team that will go to the region, make sure it would not be a hostile situation for U.S. troops and also, more importantly, to meet with the leaders of those West African military deployments to get a sense of what they have, what kind of training, and once the Pentagon knows what they have, we'll have a better sense of what they might need from the United States.

COOPER: John, next question, it is kind of a sticky one. But, is the U.S. -- is the White House making something kind of a deal with Charles Taylor? Yesterday, I think Condoleezza Rice was quoted as saying that U.S. officials and Charles Taylor had, quote; "sensitive discussions". What does that mean?

KING: Sensitive discussions means just what it is in this case, which may be a rarity when it comes to diplomacy. The White House made clear, in private conversations with President Taylor, through U.S. diplomats and through other diplomats speaking to him, that he had to leave and he had to leave now. The president wanted him out. He did not want to send U.S. troops into a hostile situation with President Taylor there.

And the president, in those conversations with -- through his diplomats made clear that the United States would not tolerate President Taylor staying. On the issue of whether he will suddenly be exempt or whether U.N. war crimes charges against him will be forgotten, what the White House says is that is up to those in the neighborhood. That the most important thing is to get him out, and then if the Nigerians and others say forget about trying him on war crimes, the White House would be okay with that.

COOPER: OK. John King live from the White House tonight. Thanks for the update.


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