Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Obama - 'We’re going to make sure that truth gets out'

The UN Security Council earlier issued a joint statement calling for an 'independent, international investigation' of the crash

United Nations

The United States told an emergency session of the UN Security Council today that it had early indications that the missile that destroyed Malaysian Airlines 17 on Thursday originated from inside territory controlled by separatists in eastern Ukraine and that it couldn’t rule out that Russian personnel had assisted in its firing.

The US envoy to the UN, Samantha Power, ended a sometimes emotional intervention on the floor of the Security Council declaring: “This war can be ended, Russia can end this war, Russia must end this war.”  

Earlier the Council stood in silence in tribute to the victims and issued a joint statement calling for an “independent, international investigation” of the crash and stressing the need for “immediate access by investigators to the crash site”.

At the White House, a still cautious President Barack Obama said some of the details of what happened were still to be determined and he did not want to “get out ahead of the facts”.

MH17 - read more: US believes plane was hit by surface-to-air missile
Why was passenger plane flying over conflict zone?

But he added that the “eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine; we’re going to make sure that truth gets out”.  While he did not explicitly assign blame to Russia, he said President Vladimir Putin had the power to stop the violence. “So far at least he has not exercised it,” he said.

Pointing to the terrible toll suffered by “our great ally the Netherlands,” Mr Obama said the incident should be a wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalated conflict in eastern Ukraine.” 

The President, who had ordered a new layer of sanctions on Russia on Wednesday, suggested the loss of MH 17 “sadly brings home the degree to which the stakes are high for Europe and not simply the Ukraine people”.

 

The call by the UN for an immediate investigation came amid concern that evidence at the crash site could be removed or deliberately compromised by those responsible.

“If indeed Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime,” Ms Power told the Council. “Thus it is extremely important than an investigation be commenced immediately.”

One after another, members of the Council accused Russia of dishonesty regarding its role in stoking the uprising in eastern Ukraine that led to the tragedy.

“Russian officials have claimed that armed separatists in Eastern Ukraine represent a spontaneous local insurgency.  We know that this is not the case,” remarked British ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant. “The United Kingdom urges Russia to reflect carefully on the situation they have created.”

In her intervention, Ms Power said that US intelligence had concluded that the jetliner was probably shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air system.

MH17 -read more: Malaysia Airlines was already in crisis
World dreads international consequences
How does this compare with previous air disasters?

She added: “Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11 it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel, thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the system.” 

Shuffling papers and apparently barely listening to the repeated criticisms of his colleagues, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador, sought to deflect the gathering global opprobrium.

“Pressure should not be brought on this investigation, trying to prejudge its outcome with broad statements and insinuations that are unjustified in such a difficult situation,” he pleaded.

He suggested that air traffic authorities in Kiev were at fault for allowing a passenger jet to fly over a war zone.  The incident happened in the broader context of Kiev inflaming the situation, with support, he said, from western nations. He cited the United Sates in particular. “We place all blame on the Kiev powers or government,” he said.

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