US: Obama, China agree on Ukraine sovereignty

by Julice Pace and Matthew Lee, Associated Press
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US President Barack Obama (l) in a 2012 meeting with Xi Jinping, when he was Vice President of China, at the White House Oval Office. (AP Photo)

US President Barack Obama (l) in a 2012 meeting with Xi Jinping, when he was Vice President of China, at the White House Oval Office. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed on the need to reduce tensions in Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, the White House said, as the U.S. seeks Beijing’s backing for efforts to isolate Russia.

Obama and Xi spoke Sunday evening, their first known conversation since Russian forces took control of Crimea. Chinese officials, which often sides with Russia against the West, have been cautious in their public comments thus far.

The White House, in a readout of Obama and Xi’s call, said the two leaders “agreed on the importance of upholding principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, both in the context of Ukraine and also for the broader functioning of the international system.” They also affirmed their interest in finding a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

Obama’s call to Xi was part of a broader effort by the president to rally world leaders around the notion that Russia’s incursion into Crimea violates international law. The Kremlin has so far shown little sign of backing down and a referendum on whether to join Russia is scheduled in Crimea on Sunday.

Ahead of that vote, Obama will host Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House on Wednesday. The U.S. has promised Ukraine’s new government $1 billion in loan guarantees, which would supplement a $15 billion aid pledge from the European Union.

European leaders have joined Obama in condemning Russia’s push into Crimea, where 60 percent of the population is ethnic Russian.

In wooing China’s support, the U.S. is seeking to capitalize on Beijing’s policy of non-interference. U.S. officials say China may also be viewing the situation in Crimea through the prism of its own ethnic minorities in border regions.

Russia moved into Crimea after Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital of Kiev. Yanukovych had faced three months of political protests after he scrapped plans to strengthen ties with Europe, a move Russia opposed.

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