Statement on Ukraine and Gaza

2014-07-18 - Barack Obama


Yesterday Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17 took off from Amsterdam and was shot down over Ukraine near the Russian border. Nearly 300 innocent lives were taken -- men, women, children, infants who had nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine. Their deaths are a outrage of unspeakable proportions.

We know at least one American citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was killed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family for this terrible loss.

Yesterday I spoke with the leaders of Ukraine, Malaysia and the Netherlands, and I told them that our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and that the American people stand with them during this difficult time. Later today I'll be speaking with Prime Minister Abbott of Australia, which also suffered a terrible loss.

By far the country that lost the most people onboard the place was the Netherlands. From the days of our founding, the Dutch have been close friends and stalwart allies of the United States of America, and today I want the Dutch people to know that we stand with you shoulder to shoulder in our grief and in our absolute determination to get to the bottom of what happened.

Now, here is what we know so far. Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine.

We also know that this is not the first time a plane has been shot down in eastern Ukraine. Over the last several weeks Russian- backed separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and they claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet.

Moreover, we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia.

This includes arms and training. It includes heavy weapons. And it includes anti-aircraft weapons.

Now, here's what's happened now. This was a global tragedy. An Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies, filled with citizens from many countries. So there has to be a credible international investigation into what happened. The U.N. Security Council has endorsed this investigation, and we will hold all its members, including Russia, to their word.

In order to facilitate that investigation, Russia, pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate cease-fire. Evidence must not be tampered with. Investigators need to access the crash site. And the solemn task of returning those who were lost onboard the plane to their loved ones needs to go forward immediately.

Now, the United States stands ready to provide any assistance that is necessary. We've already offered the support of the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board, which has experience in working with international partners on these types of investigations. They are on their way, personnel from the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board. In the coming hours and days, I'll continue to be in close contact with leaders from around the world as we respond to this catastrophe.

Our immediate focus will be on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened and putting forward the facts. And I want to point out there will likely be misinformation as well. I think it's very important for folks to sift through what is factually based and what is simply speculation. No one can deny the truth that is revealed in the awful images that we all have seen, and the eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out.

More broadly, I think it's important for us to recognize that this outrageous event underscores that it is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine. For months we've supported a pathway to peace, and the Ukrainian government has reached out to all Ukrainians, put forward a peace plan and lived up to a cease-fire, despite repeated violations by the separatists, violations that took the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and personnel.

Moreover, time and again, Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to de-escalate the situation. I spoke to President Putin yesterday in the wake of additional sanctions that we had imposed. He said he wasn't happy with them, and I told him that we have been very clear from the outset that we want Russia to take the path that would result in peace in Ukraine, but so far, at least, Russia has failed to take that path. Instead, it has continued to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists. It has also failed to use its influence to press the separatists to abide by a cease-fire. That's why, together with our allies, we've imposed growing costs on Russia.

So now's, I think, a somber and appropriate time for all of us to step back and take a hard look at what has happened. Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences. Russia, these separatists, and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting. Meanwhile, the United States is going to continue to lead efforts within the world community to de-escalate the situation, to stand up for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and to support the people of Ukraine as they courageously work to strengthen their democracy and make their own decisions about how they should move forward.

Before I take just a couple of questions, let me remark on one other issue. This morning I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel about the situation in Gaza. We discussed Israel's military operation in Gaza, including its efforts to stop the threat of terrorist infiltration through tunnels into Israel. I reaffirmed my strong support for Israel's right to defend itself. No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders or terrorists tunneling into its territory. In fact, while I was having the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, sirens went off in Tel Aviv.

I also made clear that the United States and our friends and allies are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life. And that's why we've indicated although we support military efforts by the Israelis to make sure that rockets are not being fired into their territory, we also have said that our understanding is the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels.

And we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and that all of us are working hard to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November of 2012. Secretary Kerry is working to support Egypt's initiative to pursue that outcome. I told Prime Minister Netanyahu that John is prepared to travel to the region following additional consultations.

Let me close by making one additional comment. On board Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 there were apparently near 100 researchers and advocates traveling to an international conference in Australia dedicated to combating AIDS/HIV. These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others, and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence.

In this world today we shouldn't forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these, people who are focused on what can be built rather than what can be destroyed, people who are focused on how they can help people that they've never met, people that define themselves not by what makes them different from other people but by the humanity that we hold in common. It's important for us to lift them up and to affirm their lives. And it's time for us to heed their example.

The United States of America is going to continue to stand for the basic principle that people have the right to live as they choose, that nations have the right to determine their own destiny, and that when terrible events like this occur, the international community stands on the side of justice and on the side of truth.