President Barack Obama said he’s directed his national security team to stay in touch with Ukrainian authorities as they respond to the crash of a Malaysian Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine.
Obama, in brief remarks before a speech today on transportation, made no mention of reports that the aircraft was shot down by pro-Russian separatists battling the government in Kiev, or to sanctions on Russian companies announced yesterday by the U.S. and Europe.
“The world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet,” Obama said in Wilmington, Delaware. The U.S. is seeking to learn “what happened and why.”
“Right now we are working to determine if there were American citizens on board. That is our first priority.”
The first public reports of the crash were published as Obama spoke by telephone this morning with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian president mentioned those reports to Obama, according to the White House.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said earlier that he wasn’t able to confirm reports that the aircraft, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, had been shot down. All 295 people on board were killed.
The Boeing 777 was hit by a missile and went down near the eastern town of Torez, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Russian border, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said on its Facebook page. Rebels in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said they weren’t involved, the Interfax news service reported.
The conversation between Obama and Putin was about the sanctions on Russian companies and banks that the U.S. imposed yesterday over Russia’s support for the separatists. Putin has repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement in the insurgency.
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