OBAMA MAKES DIPLOMATIC PUSH TO DEFUSE CRISIS IN UKRAINE
|President Obama and Ukraine’s interim prime minister opened the door on Wednesday to a political solution that could lead to more autonomy for Crimea if Russian troops withdraw, as the United States embarked on a last-ditch diplomatic effort to defuse a crisis that reignited tensions between East and West, writes nytimes.com. |
The tentative feeler came as Mr. Obama dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to London to meet with his Russian counterpart on Friday, two days before a Russian-supported referendum in Crimea on whether to secede from Ukraine. Mr. Obama said the world would "completely reject” what he called a "slapdash election,” but added he still hoped for a peaceful settlement.
In a show of solidarity for the besieged Ukraine, Mr. Obama hosted a White House visit by Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, the country’s pro-Western acting prime minister, and vowed to "stand with Ukraine.” But he also hinted at a formulation that could be the basis for the coming talks between Mr. Kerry and Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, recognizing Moscow’s interest in helping the Russian-speaking population in Crimea while affirming that it is part of Ukraine.
Mr. Obama said Mr. Yatsenyuk told him that a new Ukrainian government formed after elections scheduled for May 25 could find ways to address Crimea’s concerns. "There is a constitutional process in place and a set of elections that they can move forward on that, in fact, could lead to different arrangements over time with the Crimean region,” Mr. Obama said. "But that is not something that can be done with the barrel of a gun pointed at you.”
At a separate appearance later in the day, Mr. Yatsenyuk expressed willingness to consider concessions to Crimea. "We the Ukrainian government are ready to start a nationwide dialogue how to increase the rights of autonomous Republic of Crimea, starting with taxes and ending with other aspects like language issues,” he told an audience at the Atlantic Council.
Any such discussion, he added, had to take place in a "constitutional manner” rather than imposed by Russian troops. But he did not rule out holding a local referendum if authorized by the Ukrainian Parliament. "Only afterward, this referendum could be a constitutional one,” he said.
Although Mr. Yatsenyuk has articulated similar sentiments before, bringing the idea directly to Washington could frame the final diplomatic discussions before the Sunday vote. He also tried to reassure Moscow by saying that he respects the longstanding agreement permitting a Russian naval base in Crimea, and that Ukraine would not cut off water, electricity or other supplies to the peninsula.
But he used his visit to Washington to make clear that despite his preference for talks, his government would not accept partition of the country. "Mr. President,” he told Mr. Obama in the Oval Office, "it’s all about the freedom. We fight for our freedom. We fight for our independence. We fight for our sovereignty. And we will never surrender.”
Mr. Kerry employed similarly tough language during testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where he said the United States and its partners were prepared to impose tough sanctions if Russia moved to annex Crimea. "It can get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made, and it can get ugly in multiple directions,” he said. "Our hope is that there is a way to have a reasonable outcome here.”
In fact, he suggested the two sides could continue talking even if Sunday’s referendum is held, as long as Russia stops short of annexation. "There are a lot of variants here, which is why it is urgent that we have this conversation with the Russians,” he said. The United States has "exchanged some thoughts” with Moscow on how to address the crisis, he said, but the two sides "haven’t had a meeting of the minds.”
For Mr. Yatsenyuk, the visit to Washington was not just about rallying support against Russia but was also an effort to seek an economic booster shot for his vulnerable economy. Yet even as both American political parties celebrated Mr. Yatsenyuk as a hero and promised to help Ukraine, a bid to provide financial assistance bogged down in a polarized Congress.
The Republican-led House has passed legislation authorizing $1 billion in loan guarantees, but the Democratic-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday passed, in a 14-to-3 vote, an alternative version that attached long-stalled reforms to the International Monetary Fund sought by the Obama administration. The administration and its allies contend that the I.M.F. changes would raise loan limits for countries like Ukraine, while House Republicans maintain they would weaken American influence at the organization and expose taxpayers to more risk.
The Treasury Department has lobbied Congress to approve the reforms since they were negotiated in 2010, and this moment might be its best chance to finally pass them. With Ukraine in financial free-fall, the department has redoubled its efforts, arguing that the country’s standing in the I.M.F., and the fund’s standing in the world, are at stake.
"We’re already hearing calls by some to say if the United States doesn’t approve them, we should maybe move on without them,” Jacob J. Lew, the Treasury secretary, told a Senate committee on Wednesday. "That’s not a good place for the United States to be.”
Some Senate Republicans and other party figures sided with the Obama administration. A group of officials from President George W. Bush’s administration sent a letter of support on Wednesday signed by Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state; Paul H. O’Neill and John W. Snow, the former treasury secretaries; Tom Ridge, the former homeland security secretary; and Stephen J. Hadley, the former national security adviser.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he was trying to persuade House Republicans to support the I.M.F. changes. "International organizations like the I.M.F. can provide stability at a time we really need it,” he said. "It’s a strategic tool for U.S. foreign policy. We would be shortsighted not to embrace these reforms.”
But Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said the Obama administration was trying to take advantage of the crisis to advance unrelated policy goals. "This
legislation is supposed to be about assisting Ukraine and punishing Russia, and the I.M.F. measure completely undercuts both of these goals by giving Putin’s Russia something it wants,” he said, although he missed the committee vote, citing jury duty in Miami.
Even as the administration lobbied for the bill, it also began holding the first test sale of crude oil from government reserves since 1990, a move officials said was planned months ago and yet still sent a message to Moscow that the United States could use its growing energy supplies to relieve Ukraine and other European nations dependent on Russia.
With Mr. Yatsenyuk at his side, Mr. Obama pledged again to "apply a cost” on Russia if it does not reverse course in Ukraine. "There’s another path available, and we hope that President Putin is willing to seize that path,” he said. "But if he does not, I’m very confident that the international community will stand strongly behind the Ukrainian government.”
|600 reads | 13.03.2014|