U.S. considering sanctions on Ukraine due to unrest

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. officials quickly pulled out the S-word — sanctions — on Wednesday in an effort to assert a role for the Obama administration in halting escalating clashes in Ukraine.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in Paris that sanctions were being considered, and senior administration officials told CNN that a final decision could come later in the day.

“We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps with our friends (in) Europe and elsewhere in order to create the environment for compromise,” Kerry said.

National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that President Barack Obama was expected to speak about the crisis while in Mexico, where he meets Wednesday with leaders of Canada and the host nation in what is known as the “Three Amigos” summit.

Rhodes said the United States had a “full tool kit” available to respond to the unrest, including sanctions in coordination with the European Union.

According to the senior administration officials, possible sanctions were prepared several weeks ago as the administration has watched the Ukrainian government’s crackdown on demonstrators in Kiev, the capital.

Thousands of demonstrators have packed Independence Square since November, when President Viktor Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead turned toward Russia.

The unrest intensified after an anti-protest law went into effect. On Tuesday, the street clashes escalated dramatically, leaving 26 people dead and buildings on fire.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Yanukovych on Tuesday night to express “grave concern” over the crisis.

A readout of the conversation released by the White House said Biden told the Ukrainian leader that “the United States condemns violence by any side, but that the government bears special responsibility to de-escalate the situation.”

Kerry reiterated Biden’s message that Yanukovych’s government must protect its people, and can choose either dialogue and compromise or violence and mayhem.

“Our desire is for Mr. Yanukovych to bring people together,” he said, calling for the government to “put the broad interest of the people of the Ukraine out front.”

In the end, Kerry said of Yanukovych, “it is in his hands to decide what the future of the Ukraine and the future hopes of his people will be, and we hope very much that violence will be avoided and compromise will be found.”

France also has threatened sanctions against Ukraine over the government’s crackdown, with President Francois Hollande calling the protest violence “unspeakable, unacceptable, intolerable acts.”

While Yanukovych’s government has received most of the blame,Ukrainian officials blamed protesters for the escalating unrest.

Security chief Oleksander Yakimenko accused protesters of looting weapons and ammunition from government offices and announced a nationwide “anti-terrorist operation.”

The administration has come under increasing criticism for its foreign policy as talks have faltered on halting Syria’s civil war, which left nearly 5,000 people dead in the last three weeks in a particularly violent stretch of the almost three-year conflict.

On Sunday, veteran GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona called the U.S. policy in Syria an “abysmal failure and a disgraceful one.”

By Jake Tapper and Tom Cohen

CNN’s Elise Labott, Dana Davidsen and Adam Aigner-Treworgy contributed to this report.


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