Obama puts pressure on Russia over Ukraine separatists
President Barack Obama called on Russia Monday to use its influence over the pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine to let investigators have full access to the site of the downed Malaysian plane.
Speaking at the White House, the president accused the pro-Russian rebels of tempering with evidence and blocking the probe into the crash.
Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 went down in eastern Ukraine four days ago, killing all 298 people on board.
Ukraine's government and the separatists accused each other of shooting down the aircraft.
"Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating what exactly happened and putting forward the facts. We have to make sure that the truth is out," Obama said. "The Russian-backed separatists who control the area continue to block the investigation. They've repeatedly prevented the international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage, as investigators approached, they fired their weapons into the air, the separatists are removing evidence from the crash site, all of this begs the question what exactly are they trying to hide?"
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says the leader of the pro-Russian rebels has agreed to hand over both black boxes from Flight 17 to Malaysian investigators who are in Ukraine.
Najib also said that the remains of 282 of the crash victims currently in Torez are being moved by train to Kharkiv in Ukraine, where they will be handed over to Dutch authorities. The remains will then be flown to Amsterdam.
Najib also said that as part of an agreement he reached with rebel leader Alexander Borodai Monday night, independent international investigators will be given "safe access" to the crash site.
"Russia has extraordinary influence over these separatists, no one denied that. Russia has urged them on, Russia has trained them, we know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons, key separatists leaders are Russian citizens, so given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia and President Putin in particular has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation, this is the least they can do," said Obama.
The president added, "The burden now is on Russia to insists that the separatists stop tempering with the evidence, grant investigators, who already on the ground immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site. The separatists and the Russian sponsors are responsible for the safety of the investigators doing their work and along with our allies and partners we will be working this issue at the United Nations today."