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U.S. Considering Role In Liberia

The Bush administration is "actively discussing" how to bring peace to Liberia amid international calls for the United States to lead a peacekeeping force there, the White House said Tuesday.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has suggested the United States take a leadership role in peacekeeping. West African leaders on Monday asked for 2,000 U.S. troops, and said they want an answer before President Bush leaves for Africa on Monday.

France, Britain and both sides in Liberia's fighting have also pushed for an American role in a peace force for the country, which was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer did not close the door on possible U.S. military involvement Tuesday. Nor did he offer any hint that President Bush intends to commit troops.

The president called last week for Liberian President Charles Taylor to cede power as Taylor promised last month. Mr. Bush did not indicate at the time whether he will send troops.

"We're actively discussing how best to support the international efforts to help Liberia return to peace and to the rule of law," Fleischer said.

Fighting between Taylor's forces and rebels fighting to oust him killed hundreds of trapped civilians in the capital, Monrovia, last month. Rebels have fought for three years to take the capital and unseat Taylor in a war that has displaced more than 1 million Liberians.

Fleischer said the administration saw signs of calm encouraging.

"The situation in Monrovia is quiet for now," Fleischer said. "Most of the insurgents appear to have withdrawn to their previous positions."

He added: "The United States will continue to work with regional governments ... to map out a secure transition to elections."

At U.N. headquarters Monday, U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham told the Security Council during closed-door consultations that the United States wanted three conditions met for further discussion about the nature of a peacekeeping force.

According to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity, Cunningham said Washington would insist on Taylor giving up power, on a political agreement among the parties and international support for a peace process. The council decided to continue discussion after the mission it dispatched returns from the region and West African leaders meet over the weekend.

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