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Obama, Putin agree on need to ensure Ukraine deal works

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[February 22, 2014]  By Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters)  U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on Friday that a deal aimed at halting bloody clashes between government forces and protesters in Ukraine needs to be implemented quickly to stabilize the country, a U.S. official said.

The two leaders spoke by phone after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders signed a European Union-mediated peace deal.

"They agreed that the agreement reached today needed to be implemented quickly, that it was very important to encourage all sides to refrain from violence, that there was a real opportunity here for a peaceful outcome," a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters on a conference call.

The White House said details of the agreement are consistent with what the United States had been urging, such as a de-escalation of the violence, constitutional change, a coalition government and early elections.

The State Department official warned, however, that the deal remains "very, very fragile," and said international support will be needed to help stabilize the country.

"This has been a very tough sell and will continue to be a tough sell for the opposition to make to those on the streets. This is not least because of the horrible, horrible violence of the last two days," the official said.

Putin also emphasized the fragility of the situation and suggested "radical" opponents of the government were a potential threat to the deal.

Putin "underscored the need to take urgent measures to stabilize the atmosphere, accenting the importance of work with the radical opposition, which brought the confrontation in Ukraine to an extremely dangerous point," the Kremlin said in a brief statement.

Russia has said the West shares blame for the bloodshed because it encouraged violent opposition groups by failing to condemn their actions.

Tony Blinken, deputy U.S. national security adviser, said in a CNN interview that the Obama administration had made clear to Ukraine there would be consequences if the violence continued.

"And I think that had an important impact in getting people to move," Blinken said. "We've already issued some visa restrictions on those who were responsible for the violence and repression.

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns will go to Kiev early next week and Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland will likely visit in early March to be part of international support for the implementation process.

Senior U.S. officials had been preparing new sanctions to impose on Ukraine's government after dozens of people were killed in Kiev during mass demonstrations this week.

The White House reiterated that those responsible for the violence must be held accountable.

"We are not ruling out sanctions to hold those responsible for the violence accountable, especially should there be further violence or violation of the agreement," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Carney said efforts of the French, Polish and German foreign ministers as well as U.S. leaders helped bring about the deal. He added that "Russia witnessed the agreement and ... played an important role in that respect."

"It is in Russia's interest that Ukraine not be engulfed in violence  Kiev or other places  and that it return to stability, and that progress be made toward a future in Ukraine that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people," Carney told a news briefing.

"So it's very important to view this not as a tug-of-war between East and West or the United States and Russia," he added.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Will Dunham and Steve Gutterman; editing by G Crosse and Mohammad Zargham)

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