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Liberian President to Put Affairs in Order

Aired July 7, 2003 - 20:16   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Reuters News Agency is quoting diplomatic sources as saying embattled Liberian President Charles Taylor wants 45 days to get ready for his exit from power. One source says Taylor wants to get his affairs in order. The news comes after the Liberian leader accepted an offer of asylum from Nigeria. Meanwhile, a U.S. military assessment team is on the ground in Liberia.
Brent Sadler joins us from Monrovia with the very latest tonight.

Brent, what can you tell us about what the assessment team has accomplished?

BRENT SADLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Paula. Good evening.

First of all, this assessment team is quite small in numbers, about 20 of them, plus a security detail of about another dozen or so. They flew in to the Liberian capital here in Monrovia many hours ago, about 12 hours ago. They came in by chopper from neighboring Sierra Leone. And the immediate tasks of this team is to really try and work out, to assess, to scope out the very many challenges at the humanitarian level facing any wider -- possible wider U.S. involvement in this nation's future.

They're going to be looking at some of the very harsh conditions that people here are now living in. Liberia has a population of about three million people. More than a million of them are internally displaced, and at least 100,000 refugees in the Liberian capital. And these specialists in the fields of civilian affairs, water, sanitation, and health will be going out during the early part of tomorrow, we understand, in daylight hours here, to check out a refugee camp that is very close to the U.S. Embassy compound, where those troops, those specialists from the assessment team arrive.

Now, the big question mark hanging over the possible widening of U.S. involvement here in Liberia is what is going to happen, if anything, to Charles Taylor's future. As you reported earlier, Paula, Mr. Taylor saying he needs perhaps more than six weeks to put his affairs in order. We do know that Mr. Taylor was offered and has accepted political asylum from Nigeria. The two presidents met over the weekend. That was thrashed out.

But there is still no fine-print details on the precise mechanics of how and when Mr. Taylor would leave. He says he does not want to go and create even more bloodshed and confusion and a possible vacuum that might ensue. At the same time, the United States, with President George W. Bush in Africa on a five-nation visit over five days, pressuring Mr. Taylor to step down.

It is all going to be in the timing now. I think it is pretty clear that Mr. Taylor wants to go. And even though it is still hanging in the air, he may be given some time, some wiggle room to be able to leave and allow the establishment of a stabilization force, with the U.S. having a major, possibly major participation -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Brent Sadler reporting for us tonight from Monrovia.

The situation, as Brent just pointed out, and how the U.S. might handle it certainly dominated the headlines. But as President Bush wings his way to Africa tonight, the crisis is not necessarily the primary focus of his five-nation tour.

John King reports on what could be a challenging trip.


JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An Africa trip postponed because of the looming war in Iraq is now overshadowed somewhat by efforts to end one of the continent's all- too-common civil wars. The president will visit five countries in five days: Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, and Nigeria. Visiting a slave house in Senegal will open the trip with a haunting reminder.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Slavery was, of course, America's birth defect.

KING: The president is promising to help end the civil war in Liberia. And this new effort in Western Africa fits with his overriding theme for the trip.

SUSAN RICE, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: When you have this broad swathe of conflict and failed states, you the opportunity that has already been exploited by al Qaeda to take precious minerals out of those countries and use them to finance the terrorist operations and terrorist organizations.

KING: But, as Mr. Bush promises help, there are many skeptics. The president, for example, talks of an unprecedented $15 billion U.S. commitment to fight HIV/AIDS and billions more in aid to African nations that prove their commitment to political and economic reforms. But Congress has yet to approve the funding.

SALIH BOOKER, AFRICA ACTION: If these are revealed to be broken promises, then he risks being seen as really callous, as manipulating Africans' suffering for political gain.

KING: Africa's elder statesman is missing from the president's agenda, because the White House made clear it did not want a meeting. Nelson Mandela is a harsh Bush critic on the Iraq war and other issues. And he decided to travel outside South Africa while Mr. Bush is in Pretoria.

BOOKER: George Bush should be honored to have an audience with Nelson Mandela, but he didn't even request an appointment.

KING: The major goal of the Bush trip is to focus on the continent's economic progress and potential.

S. RICE: We get 16 percent of our imported oil from Africa. That is going to go up to 20 percent in the next 10 years.

KING (on camera): The president says, by the end of his trip, his commitment to Africa will no longer be in doubt. The immediate test comes in Liberia, a country that was hardly a major White House concern back when this trip was first put together.

John King, CNN, the White House.



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