US President George W. Bush has demanded that Liberian President Charles Taylor leave the war-ravaged West African nation, as he neared a decision on sending US peacekeeping troops there.
"We're exploring all options as to how to keep the situation peaceful and stable. One thing has to happen: Mr Taylor needs to leave the country," he told reporters at the White House Wednesday.
Bush, who leaves Monday on a whirlwind tour of Africa, was expected to decide as early as yesterday whether to send US troops to Liberia to lead or take part in an international peacekeeping operation, US officials said.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush would make his decision before leaving Washington today for the long US Independence Day holiday weekend, after which he departs for Africa.
"Everyone has weighed in," one official said, referring to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"Now it's up to the president," they said.
The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had already ordered military planners to prepare detailed plans for deploying between 500 and 2,000 US troops to Liberia as part of an international peacekeeping force.
Liberia was set up by freed black slaves in the 19th century and the US has sent troops there during previous troubles in 1992 and 1996.
Powell later told the Sean Hannity radio talk show that he had spoken to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has urged Washington to lead a peacekeeping effort in Liberia, for the second time in two days.
"The president is examining his options. But it's premature to say that he has made a decision and that an announcement is forthcoming in the next day or so," Powell told the syndicated program.
Earlier, Bush expressed concern over the suffering in Liberia, adding, "The political instability is such that people are panicking."
"But the good news is there's a ceasefire in place now. And one of the things that Colin is going to do is to work closely with the United Nations to see how best to keep the ceasefire in place," he said.