Obama says 'there will be consequences' for Ukraine violence if people step over the line

The Associated Press

President Barack Obama speaks to the media about the situation in Ukraine while meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the state government palace in Toluca, Mexico Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. The president said "there will be consequences" for violence in Ukraine if people step over the line. Saying that includes making sure that the military doesn't step into a situation that civilians should resolve. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press

TOLUCA, Mexico (AP) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Ukraine to avoid violence against peaceful protesters or face consequences, as the United States considered joining European partners to impose sanctions aimed at ending deadly street clashes that are sparking fears of civil war.

"There will be consequences if people step over the line," Obama said shortly after landing in Mexico for a summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, as fires burned in central Kiev. "And that includes making sure that the Ukrainian military does not step in to what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians."

Shortly after Obama's remarks, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's office said he and opposition leaders had agreed on a truce, although the brief statement offered no details about what it would entail or how it would be implemented. Obama later responded that he hoped a truce would "provide space for the sides to resolve their disagreements peacefully."

"Ultimately the government's responsible for making sure that we shift toward some sort of unity government, even if it's temporary, that allows us to move to fair and free elections so that the will of the Ukrainian people can be rightly expressed without the kinds of chaos we've seen on the streets, without the bloodshed that all of us, I think, strongly condemn," Obama said at an evening news conference with his fellow North American leaders.

Meanwhile, the European Union called an extraordinary meeting of its 28 member countries on Thursday to address the situation.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris that he and his counterparts from Germany and Poland would travel to Ukraine, meeting with the Ukrainian government and opposition before the emergency EU meeting. EU sanctions would typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the EU countries and freezing their assets there.

Obama said he is monitoring the Ukrainian violence "very carefully."

"We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint and to not resort to violence when dealing with peaceful protesters," Obama said.

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Paris for meetings with Fabius and others, said he was disturbed by the level of abuse demonstrated by the Ukrainian government and protesters.

"We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps in order to create the atmosphere for compromise," he said.

It was not immediately clear Wednesday what sort of sanctions or penalties the U.S. could impose.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said visa restrictions already have been imposed against some members of the Ukrainian government, and cited "different kinds of individual sanctions that can be levied" without being specific. She said officials are still trying to determine who is responsible for the violence and described a sense of urgency within the Obama administration "to make decisions very, very soon about what we will do next."

Deadly clashes between police and anti-government protesters in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Tuesday left at least 25 people dead and hundreds injured.

Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with Obama aboard Air Force one that what happened Tuesday was "completely outrageous" and will be a factor in U.S. decision-making.

Rhodes said there was still time for the Ukrainian government to avoid sanctions or other punishment by pulling back its "riot police," respecting people's right to protest peacefully, releasing protesters who have been arrested and pursuing a "serious dialogue" with the opposition about how to unify the country.