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Bush Heads for Africa as Tumult in Liberia, Iraq Continues

Aired July 7, 2003 - 19:09   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush starts a diplomatic trip to Africa tonight.
Now the mission comes as Mr. Bush considers a plan to send U.S. troops to Liberia, even as U.S. troops in Iraq continue to face deadly attacks.

We have live reports tonight coming up from Dana Bash at the White House, from Brent Sadler in Liberia, as well as Nic Robertson in Iraq.

Want to begin right now in Washington. President Bush left the White House just a few moments ago. White House correspondent Dana Bash joins with us a look at the president's plans.

Now Dana, obviously the president cannot go everywhere. Where is he going first and why?


Well, that's right. The president at this hour is on his way for his first trip to Africa and he is heading to five countries.

Let's take a look at exactly where he is going. He's going to Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda and Nigeria. And as you mentioned, he can't hit everywhere. There are more than 50 countries on the continent of Africa.

Now why these five? Especially since, as some have pointed out, these are some of the "haves" as opposed to some of the "have nots" on the continent of Africa.

But the White House says that this trip allows the president to hit all major regions on the continent and it also is a place -- the places he is going are areas and countries that are vital to the United States. They are countries where the U.S. actually has relationships with both economically and for other reasons.

For example, Nigeria, White House officials pointed out to me, that is an important country because of trade. The U.S. gets some 16 percent of its oil from the country of Nigeria.

And Senegal, his first trip, that is one of the oldest democracies on the continent of Africa. And it is a place the president wanted to go specifically because its Gory Island is there. That is a former slave house; that is going to be one of the president's first stops.

COOPER: Dana, it is pretty interesting because when you look at what then Governor George Bush said before he was elected president about Africa, there certainly seems to be a switch.

Let me show you -- show the audience a little bit of what he said. He said, quote, "While Africa may be important, it doesn't fit into the national strategic interests as far as I can see them." That was him in February 2000. What had changed?

BASH: Well, what his critics would say is that in 2000, the president lost the African-American vote by 9 to 1 nationally. And that this is part of his appeal to African-Americans as he leads up to the next election.

However, the then Governor Bush did also say that Africa is important, both in terms of promoting democracy and in terms of promoting economic issues, particularly trade with the United States.

But what has changed, specifically, is the whole idea of U.S. national interests. And with this issue of Liberia and whether U.S. troops are going to go there, this is something that the president made clear as candidate he might not be that interested in doing. What the White House says is that 9/11 really changed everything. And they can't let areas that are chaotic continue because they could be breeding grounds for terrorists.

COOPER: Well, he also has a major initiative on AIDS in Africa, which he'll no doubt be talking about a lot as he goes through these various countries in Africa.

Dana, thanks very much for that report.

As Dana mentioned, the president doesn't plan to visit Liberia. But a U.S. military group did arrive there earlier today.

CNN's Brent Sadler is in Monrovia.

Brent, what's the latest?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, Anderson, these are U.S. troops, military personnel that arrived in the Liberian capital several hours ago.

They're not peacekeepers. These are specialists in the fields of civilian affairs, health, medicine, preventive medicine, especially, and other areas, particularly logistics and construction. They are a specialist assessment team sent in here to try and work out the dire needs of this war-ravaged nation.

Now we don't know how long this specialist team is on the ground for. We do know that they're expected for the first time to go out, a day like tomorrow to go out to one of the refugee centers, very close to the U.S. embassy compound in Monrovia, where they landed earlier today. And inside that camp, many hundreds of desperately -- people desperate for shelter, for water, and health services. That will be a first eyeball look at the enormous problems faced by Liberians in this country.

Now at the same time, we also know that there are building international pressures on Liberia's president, Charles Taylor. Mr. Bush has repeatedly said before leaving for this African trip, he won't be coming to Liberia, of course, that Mr. Taylor must step down.

But uppermost in everybody's mind, including Charles Taylor, including the Nigerian president, who visited Liberia Sunday, as well as the United States administration, that no one here wants to see a power vacuum for Mr. Taylor to go when the conditions are not right.

He needs to go, says Mr. Bush, but the exit conditions must be right. Mr. Taylor says he wants to see peacekeepers on the ground, but that still has not been formulated. How peacekeepers would come in here with the United States being involved in the first enter of peacekeepers, should that happen, these questions still have to be answered.

But certainly what we see today is the forerunner of possible wider U.S. involvement here in Liberia -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Brent Sadler, live in Monrovia, Liberia.

Brent, thanks.

As America debates sending peacekeepers to Liberia, two more U.S. soldiers have died in two separate incidents in Iraq.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is standing by now in Baghdad.

Nic, the latest.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the latest, those soldiers killed, one in a shootout, apparently with Iraqi gunmen early in the night Sunday night. Another one a few -- another soldier a few hours later killed when the vehicle he was traveling in in a patrol was hit by an explosive device.

And they're not the only injuries as well. A little later in the night in the town of Ramaldi (ph), a town where there is particular tensions between U.S. troops and the Iraqi population there, four soldiers wounded in that particular incident when their vehicle came under attack. Another explosive device exploding and injuring four of them.

Also one soldier who was shot in the head on Sunday at close range. He was a civil affairs officer. He was at the university, where a delegation that had a meeting, civil affairs meeting at the university. Somebody approached him with a gun, shot him at close range in the back of the head. He died early Monday of his injuries -- Anderson. COOPER: Nic, any sense yet of how coordinated these attacks are? I mean, it's a question we've asked before, but I think it bears repeating. Is there any sense, any evidence building?

ROBERTSON: There is certainly evidence, for example, in Ramaldi (ph) of some sophistication at least that's going into the attacks there.

The U.S. base in Ramaldi (ph) has been seen mortar attacks over the last week. That is something new. A mortar, a type of military device obviously. But it's a type of device that needs setting up and it also needs taking out of the area afterwards. It shows some coordination. That is what we're being told.

The explosive devices used, improvised explosive devices, straps of explosives tied together. But set off by a remote control device. Again, we're told, showing some level of sophistication.

The question is are these attacks in Ramaldi (ph), let's say, coordinated with the attacks in Baghdad. That's not known.

But of all the people, all the military officers we speak to here, they're beginning to talk about a greater sophistication and a greater level of organization. And it's that regional organization that they're trying to look at now to see if events in the different cities are all tied together -- Anderson.

COOPER: Nic Robertson live in Baghdad; thanks very much. Brent Sadler, as well, in Monrovia and Dana Bash at the White House. Thank you, all.



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