- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2014

President Obama on Friday called for all sides to “adhere to an immediate cease-fire” in eastern Ukraine and for international investigators to receive unfettered access to the crash site of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet that was shot down in territory held by Russian-backed separatist rebels.

Mr. Obama said that the evidence points to the separatists, who are armed and trained by Russia, firing the missile that brought down the Boeing 777 and killed all 298 passengers and crew aboard. But he said the final verdict of who was responsible would have to wait the outcome of a “credible international investigation.”

“Evidence must not be tampered with,” he demanded. “Investigators need to access the crash site and the solemn task of returning those who were lost on board the plane to their loved ones needs to go forward immediately.”

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Obama said, “The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out.”

The president also announced that one American citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was among those killed on the plane. No other details about Mr. Schansman were provided.

The shot-down passenger jet inflamed already-tense relations between the Washington and Moscow following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, formerly a part of Ukraine, and continued Russian support for rebel fighters along Ukraine’s border with Russia.

Mr. Obama said the horrific incident in the sky over Ukraine should galvanize international efforts to end the conflict between the government in Kiev, which has forged allegiances with the European Union, and the rebels who want to restore strong ties with Russia.

“This should snap everybody’s heads to attention,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s demands echoed the United Nations Security Council, which held an emergency session Friday and called for a “a full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the downing of the plane.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also said both sides in the Ukrainian conflict should put down their weapons and hold peace talks.

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it went down Thursday near the city of Donetsk, a pro-Russia stronghold in eastern Ukraine that has been the scene of pitched battles in recent days between separatists and the Ukrainian military.

“Nearly 300 innocent lives were taken — men, women, children, infants, who had nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at the White House. “Their deaths are an outrage of unspeakable proportions.”

Most of the victims were from the Netherlands. About 100 of the passengers were AIDS researchers and activists headed to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Each side in the Ukraine conflict has accused the other of shooting down the plane with a surface-to-air missile.

The separatists have been slow to grant access to the crash site, as questions surface about what had happened to the plane’s “black box” data recorder. In Donetsk, regional officials and rebels offered differing accounts of who has the black box.

Story Continues →