(WASHINGTON) — Issuing a stern call for “immediate and full access” to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, President Obama on Monday said the behavior of the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine begs the question, “what exactly are they trying to hide?”
“They have repeatedly prevented international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage,” the president said. “These 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’ve lost loved ones. It’s the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations.”
“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 accountability exists,” Obama told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House.
Delivering his strongest statement yet on the crash and investigation, the president said the burden is on Russia, and particularly President Vladimir Putin, to compel the separatists to cooperate with the investigation.
“President Putin says that he supports a full and fair investigation. And I appreciate those words, but they have to be supported by actions,” Obama said. “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 their Russian sponsors are responsible for the safety of the investigators doing their work.”
“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,” he said.
Obama reiterated that he still prefers to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine.
“I believe that can still happen. That is my preference today. And it will continue to be my preference,” he said.
But Obama also warned Russia that if Moscow continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and back the separatists, “then Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.”
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
Nate Sunderland, EastIdahoNews.com
Eli Watkins, CNN
Pamela Brown, Jake Tapper and Dan Merica, CNN
Seth Fiegerman, CNN