The following was released by the White House (unedited here)
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. I want
to make a brief statement about the tragedy in Ukraine. Before I do,
though, I want to note that Secretary Kerry has departed for the Middle
East. As I’ve said many times, Israel has
a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas.
And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant
damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. I’ve also said,
however, that we have serious concerns about
the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of
Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus
of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends
the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent
civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.
So Secretary Kerry will meet with allies and
partners. I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of
hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement
between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The work will
not be easy. Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this
and some very difficult strategic issues involved. Nevertheless, I’ve
asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation to
hostilities. We don’t want to see any more civilians
With respect to Ukraine, it’s now been four
days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over territory
controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. Over the last
several days, our hearts have been absolutely broken
as we’ve learned more about the extraordinary and beautiful lives that
were lost -- men, women and children and infants who were killed so
suddenly and so senselessly.
Our thoughts and prayers
continue to be with their families around the world who are going
through just unimaginable grief. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a
number of leaders around the world whose citizens
were lost on this flight, and all of them remain in a state of shock
but, frankly, also in a state of outrage.
Our immediate focus is on recovering those who
were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the
facts. We have to make sure that the truth is out and that
investigators are on the ground. They have been organized. I’ve sent
teams; other countries have sent teams. They are prepared, they are
organized to conduct what should be the kinds of protocols
and scouring and collecting of evidence that should follow any
international incident like this. And what they need right now is
immediate and full access to the crash site. They need to be able to
conduct a prompt and full and unimpeded as well as transparent
investigation. And recovery personnel have to do the solemn and sacred
work on recovering the remains of those who were lost.
Poroshenko has declared a demilitarized zone around the crash site. As I
said before, you have international teams already in place prepared to
conduct the investigation and recover the remains
of those who have been lost. But, unfortunately, the Russian-backed
separatists who control the area continue to block the investigation.
They have repeatedly prevented international investigators from gaining
full access to the wreckage. As investigators
approached, they fired their weapons into the air. These separatists
are removing evidence from the crash site, all of which begs the
question -- what exactly are they trying to hide?
Russian-backed separatists are removing bodies from the crash site,
oftentimes without the care that we would normally expect from a tragedy
like this. And this is an insult to those who have lost
loved ones. This is the kind of behavior that has no place in the
community of nations.
Now, Russia has
extraordinary influence over these separatists. No one denies that.
Russia has urged them on. Russia has trained them. We know that Russia
has armed them with military equipment and weapons,
including anti-aircraft weapons. Key separatist leaders are Russian
citizens. So given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia
and President Putin, in particular, has direct responsibility to compel
them to cooperate with the investigation. That
is the least that they can do.
President Putin says that
he supports a full and fair investigation. And I appreciate those
words, but they have to be supported by actions. The burden now is on
Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering
with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground
immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site. The separatists
and the Russian sponsors are responsible for the safety of the
investigators doing their work. And along with our
allies and partners, we will be working this issue at the United
More broadly, as I’ve said
throughout this crisis and the crisis in Ukraine generally, and I’ve
said this directly to President Putin, as well as publicly, my
preference continues to be finding a diplomatic resolution
within Ukraine. I believe that can still happen. That is my
preference today, and it will continue to be my preference.
But if Russia continues to
violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists, and these
separatists become more and more dangerous and now are risks not simply
to the people inside of Ukraine but the broader
international community, then Russia will only further isolate itself
from the international community, and the costs for Russia’s behavior
will only continue to increase.
Now is the time for
President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy that they’ve
been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities within
Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty
and respects the right of the Ukrainian people to make their own
decisions about their own lives.
And time is of the
essence. Our friends and allies need to be able to recover those who
were lost. That's the least we can do. That's the least that decency
demands. Families deserve to be able to lay their
loved ones to rest with dignity. The world deserves to know exactly
what happened. And the people of Ukraine deserve to determine their own