Liberia reports U.S. ultimatum for Taylor
MONROVIA, Liberia (CNN) -- The United States has given embattled Liberian President Charles Taylor 48 hours to give up power and leave the country, according to a senior Liberian government source.
Although the source told CNN the ultimatum came directly from the United States and was delivered sometime Thursday afternoon, a senior State Department official in Washington said he was not aware of an ultimatum for Taylor to step down.
The Liberian government source did not provide an exact time for when the ultimatum would expire Saturday.
The conflicting reports came amid protests on the streets of Monrovia seeking Taylor's resignation and an acknowledgement from President Bush that U.S. troops may be sent to the region for peacekeeping efforts.
Hundreds of anti-Taylor demonstrators protested his presidency for the first time Thursday and waved signs that read "Taylor must go."
Bush said he would "look at all of the options to determine how best to bring peace and stability" to Liberia, including the possibility of sending troops as part of an international peace keeping team.
The National Security Council will have discussions Friday on Liberia, according to a senior administration official. White House officials said urgent efforts were under way to get Taylor to step down.
In an interview with CNN International's "Inside Africa," Bush again called on Taylor to step down and leave the country.
"One thing that needs to happen is Mr. Taylor needs to leave," Bush said. "I think most people understand that that's important. I'm convinced he will listen and make the right decision, if he cares about his country."
Bush, who is scheduled to visit Africa next week, would not say whether U.S. troops would depose Taylor if he refused to leave.
Taylor was indicted in June by a U.N.-backed special court in neighboring Sierra Leone on charges of perpetrating war crimes in arming and training rebels who committed atrocities in the country.
He has demanded assurance he would not have to face those charges in return for stepping down.
Nigeria has tentatively offered Taylor asylum, an offer he initially rejected. A Nigerian delegation is expected to return to Monrovia Friday, following a Wednesday visit.
The Pentagon has told U.S. European Command to prepare military options and issue a recommendation for possible U.S. intervention in Liberia. One military official said "things are moving quickly now."
Bush told CNN that U.S. officials were holding talks with the Economic Community of West African States "to determine what the nature of a peacekeeping force might look like.
"I'm the kind of person that likes to know all the facts before I make a decision," he said.
Bush discussed the situation with his national security team Thursday morning.
A decision is expected before the president leaves on a trip to Africa early next week. The Liberia issue has become a test of Bush's promise to make a commitment to promoting peace, democracy and economic development in Africa.
At least 50 U.S. Marines from a unit at the U.S. Naval Station in Rota, Spain, that specializes in rapid-deployment, anti-terrorism missions could arrive within six hours of receiving a deployment order, a Marine Corps spokesman said. Sources said they would be used to reinforce the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Monrovia.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Taylor must leave for there to be peace in Liberia.
"The fact of the matter is Charles Taylor needs to leave because Charles Taylor is the problem," she said. "Not just a problem for Liberia. He's a problem for the region."
Taylor led a rebellion in 1989 that triggered seven years of civil war in which an estimated 200,000 people died. He was elected president in 1997 following a peace settlement. For the past three years his government has been under siege by rebels who now hold 60 percent of the country. (Full story)
Some U.S. officials said Bush is committed to having the United States take a peacekeeping role, but key questions -- chief among them Taylor's fate -- need to be resolved before a decision can be made.
Officials said discussions focus on a U.S. force, in the range of 500 to 1,000 troops, heading a peacekeeping force that would consist mostly of Liberia's West African neighbors. (Full story)
Washington is under international pressure to lead a Liberia mission, but Bush has been reluctant to commit U.S. troops to Liberia, which was founded in 1822 as a settlement for freed American slaves. (Interactive: The United States and Liberia)
He had hoped West African peacekeepers would be enough, with the possible exception of Marine reinforcements at the Monrovia embassy. (Full story)
But Secretary of State Colin Powell has been arguing in favor of a U.S. commitment, sources said -- citing recent peacekeeping commitments by France in Ivory Coast and Britain in Sierra Leone.
CNN correspondents John King, Jeff Koinange, Jamie McIntyre and Barbara Starr and producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.