- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

The United Nations’ new envoy for Liberia said yesterday he does not expect the Bush administration to make a decision on sending U.S. troops to the war-torn nation until a West African force is deployed.

At the same time, administration officials pointed to a draft U.N. resolution prepared by Washington, which establishes a multinational force, as an indication that any Americans would serve under a U.N. mandate.

“We prepare these things in hope they will be useful,” a senior State Department official said of the draft after its existence was revealed by The Washington Times yesterday.

“We have indeed been preparing language for possible U.N. resolutions should the president decide how we will participate in the effort in Liberia,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

“The president has made clear he is looking at that, and when he decides, we will look for the appropriate U.N. resolution,” he said.

Jacques Paul Klein, the U.N. envoy, said at a press conference in New York that the White House is willing to make a commitment after African nations do the same.

“The key thing is that we need ECOWAS to move quickly,” Mr. Klein said, in reference to troops from the Economic Community of West African States. “The Americans will not make their decision until the ECOWAS troops are deployed.”

He noted, however, that the West African nations need help from the United States before deploying forces to Liberia.

Mr. Klein, an American diplomat and retired Army Reserve general, attended Monday’s meeting between President Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the White House.

Elaborating on Mr. Annan’s comments after the meeting, the envoy said yesterday that ECOWAS would send in 1,000 to 1,500 troops as soon as possible. When sufficient African forces are on the ground, the United States would send a small number of troops, and Liberian President Charles Taylor would go into exile in Nigeria.

Washington’s draft resolution, which would be introduced in the U.N. Security Council, contains language that guarantees the American troops immunity from the new International Criminal Court (ICC).

The text says the council “decides that current or former officials or personnel from a contributing state shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the contributing state for any criminal proceedings, including arrests and investigations, arising out of acts or omissions related to the multinational force or U.N. stabilization force in Liberia, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been waived by the contributing state.”

The administration wants that paragraph in the document despite an already-existing Security Council exemption for U.S. soldiers and officials serving in U.N. missions. The protection was first granted in July 2002 and was extended last month for another year.

Administration officials said yesterday that the separate language in the Liberia resolution was not written because the deployment might last longer than a year, but to reinforce the current safeguards.

The United States is not a member of the ICC, whose Rome statute went into effect a year ago. U.S. officials, fearful the court might prosecute Americans for political reasons, have negotiated bilateral agreements with more than 55 countries to exempt U.S. soldiers and officials from the court’s jurisdiction, but Liberia is not one of them.

Liberian rebels battled their way closer to the heart of the capital, Monrovia, yesterday, heightening fears of a third assault on the city in two months.

The rebels deny they are about to descend on the capital, but the fighting nevertheless threatened a shaky truce, which was designed to pave the way for the West African force.

Liberia’s chief of staff, Gen. Benjamin Yeaten, said the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) had seized the key Klay Road Junction and advanced to Sasstown, 16 miles north of the city limits.

“We are observing the cease-fire, but the rebels are not observing the cease-fire,” Gen. Yeaten told reporters. “We are defending. They are carrying on shelling toward Monrovia.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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