The Rev. Jesse Jackson, ending weeks of speculation, said Monday that he would accept the Democratic vice presidential nomination if it were offered.
He made his announcement amid indications that Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the presumptive presidential nominee, would announce his choice within a few days, and that it most likely will not be Jackson.
"If it was offered to me, I would accept it," Jackson told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Paul P. Brountas, the Dukakis aide who has been coordinating the search for a running mate.
In recent days, relations between Jackson and Dukakis had become increasingly strained as Jackson repeatedly pressured Dukakis about "the criteria" for Dukakis' choice.
Both Brountas and Jackson told a news conference that the session, their second, went well.
Jackson said he gave Brountas his "views of the vice presidency, the job and what it entails."
With Brountas standing nearby at a crowded news conference at the Marriott Hotel following their meeting, Jackson said: "I'm going to support the party. I've done that down through the years."
But he added that the "quality" of that support was still to be determined and that it was up to Dukakis "to define the nature and quality of (our) relationship."
Jackson is Dukakis' last active rival for the presidential nomination that the governor has all but locked up, with 2,426 delegates pledged to him compared to 1,135 for Jackson, with 2,081 needed to nominate. Jackson said having his name placed in nomination for the vice presidency in defiance of Dukakis' wishes "is not under consideration."
Jackson said Brountas asked if he would be loyal to the party, "and the answer is yes."
But when asked whether that meant no matter who was on the ticket, Jackson hedged, saying "one has to make a political judgment" about whether to support anyone.
"I can speak most appropriately," Jackson said, "(about) if it were offered to me. I would accept. If it is not offered to me then my response would be based upon many things that we've not discussed."
Jackson's announcement that he would accept the second spot on the Democratic ticket followed weeks of verbal fencing with Dukakis over the selection process and increasing suggestions that the civil rights leader and his supporters might set off disruptive platform debates at next week's Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.
The announcement ended hopes of some Democratic leaders that Jackson would remove himself as a potential running mate to Dukakis, and added further complications to Dukakis' search. Jackson is not expected to be asked to join the ticket, largely because polls indicate he would drag the ticket to defeat. But his announcement almost certainly will solidify his supporters' demand that he be given the second spot.
Jackson said that if he is not chosen, he would expect further discussions with Dukakis about his role in the fall campaign. "We intend to have an effective, informative convention that would inspire our nation, unify our party and take us to victory," he added.
Brountas said he would report the results of the discussion to Dukakis. "Have a good evening," was all Dukakis would say to reporters in Boston as he left for home Monday after a meeting with three top campaign aides, including campaign manager Susan Estrich.
Several campaign aides said privately that the time at home was to be spent working to pick a running mate. "He hasn't made up his mind yet," said one Dukakis aide. "Or if he has, he hasn't told anybody."
Dukakis has vowed to make a decision before the Democratic National Convention begins next Monday, but the continuing problems with Jackson and in coming up with alternative candidates have begun to wear on the campaign.
Dukakis had vowed to avoid the highly public "press conference on the driveway" approach to the selection process that Walter F. Mondale had used four years ago. But last week he also stood on his driveway as reporters snapped pictures of him meeting with potential nominees.
Announcing his choice of running mate would bring to a close a process that many Democrats feel has begun to devolve from painstaking to painful. But depending on who the nominee is the selection could create new difficulties.
Recent speculation has centered on two candidates--Ohio Sen. John Glenn, who has been the favorite in Washington's conventional wisdom, and Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., who has moved up rapidly in recent guesses on the strength of his youthful vigor and presumed attractiveness in the South. Other candidates who have been widely mentioned recently include Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, and Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, a foreign policy expert who is little known outside Washington but well respected inside.
Jackson said on Monday that he provided Brountas with financial data and other documents that had been requested of all candidates Dukakis is considering.
Brountas called the session with Jackson an "excellent meeting." Asked if Jackson was still under consideration for the vice presidential nomination, he said: "That was the purpose of the meeting." He said the meeting concluded the "background phase" of Dukakis' vice presidential search.
Also attending Monday's session were Ronald W. Walters, a Jackson adviser who is a Howard University professor of political science; John C. White, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and John French, a Brountas associate from Minneapolis.
The Chicago clergyman had noted in recent days that his differences with Dukakis over issues to be faced at the convention were causing "creative tension" between the two men.
Jackson is planning to bring at least one busload of supporters to the convention and other followers of the charismatic minister are expected to show up in Atlanta.
For Dukakis a smooth-running convention could prove important in getting his campaign back on a positive track.
In Atlanta Monday, Democratic National Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. said that Dukakis is "gradually" working out differences with Jackson on platform issues. Kirk said that the party's credentials committee had met and not one of the 4,000-plus delegates was challenged, unlike other celebrated Democratic brawls. Likewise, the report of the party rules committee has been prepared without a dissenting plank.
"This party, in my judgment, is better prepared, more unified and will be more competitive than it has been since perhaps 1964," Kirk said.
Staff writer David Lauter also contributed to this story.