Secretary of State John Kerry, who just returned from talks with
his Russian counterpart in London, was at the White House meeting
along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Obama did not attend the meeting but was being briefed about it and
other developments involving Ukraine, said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a
spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
Crimea's pro-Russia parliament has scheduled a referendum on Sunday
to decide whether the region should be annexed by Russia, an ominous
development that Obama and his national security team have been
trying to head off to no avail.
Obama said on Friday he still hopes a diplomatic solution can be
found but that the United States and Europe are prepared to impose
"consequences" on Russia if it does not loosen its grip on Crimea.
White House deliberations took on a new urgency as Ukraine's
military scrambled aircraft and paratroops to confront Russian
troops landing on a remote spit of land between Crimea and the
The Russian move prompted some members of the U.S. Congress to
"Russia using provocateurs to provoke violence attacks inside
Ukraine to create excuse for invasion of Eastern Ukraine,"
Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio said in a Tweet.
Representative Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the U.S.
delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said the fresh
Russian move was a deliberate violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and
"clearly shows that Russia is an aggressor state."
talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London on
Friday but they reached no breakthrough in the worst East-West
dispute in decades.
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A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
Kerry presented Lavrov with a number of concrete proposals to defuse
tensions and address concerns by Moscow over security and protection
of minorities within a united Ukraine.
The talks hit a wall early on when it became clear that Lavrov was
not authorized by the Kremlin to discuss any proposal that might
impact Crimea before the referendum, the official said.
Washington has said it will be ready to move on Monday to impose
visa bans and asset freezes, involving Ukrainian and Russian
officials, if the referendum goes ahead and it leads to the
annexation of Crimea. The European Union and other Western powers
have said they will match U.S. sanctions.
Vice President Joe Biden leaves on Monday on a visit to NATO allies
Poland and Lithuania to show support for key partners in the region.
In Vilnius he will meet the presidents of all three Baltic nations,
Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Lesley Wroughton and Phil Stewart;
editing by Nick Zieminski and Cynthia Osterman)
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