At least one American citizen died in the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down in eastern Ukraine, President Obama said Friday at the White House.Obama called the crash an “outrage of unspeakable proportions” and expressed sympathy for the Netherlands, where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 originated on Thursday. All of the nearly 300 people on board the flight are presumed dead. More than half of the passengers were from the Netherlands. The loss of life for the Netherlands is equivalent to the number of American victims in the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks, relative to population, according to U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power.
A number of the passengers were AIDS researchers and prevention advocates travelling to a conference in Australia. According to the United Nations, 80 of those on board were children.
The president confirmed that a surface-to-air missile launched from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists downed the plane in Ukraine. The airliner was flying at about 33,000 feet when it last made contact with radar Thursday. Obama added that the U.S. is still gathering evidence on who ordered the attack on the flight and why.
“The shot was taken within territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists,” Obama said.
Obama made clear that Russia’s continued support for separatists, in terms of weapons and training, have widened the conflict into what he now described as a global tragedy.
Ukraine has been splintering since February, when pro-European protesters began clashing with pro-Russian demonstrators in Kiev. The deadly clashes roiled the capital city for months and led to the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has seized on the unrest in Ukraine in an effort to swallow up new swathes of land in the region. The semi-autonomous region of Crimea, Ukraine voted in March to formally rejoin the Russian Federation. Pro-Russian separatists have fought for control of disputed regions in southeastern Ukraine for months.
On Friday, Obama called on Russia, separatists and the Ukraine to adhere to an immediate cease-fire so that officials can investigate the crash site. The U.S. has sent a team of FBI and National Security Transportation Board officials to Ukraine that is standing by to assist in the investigation. The president added that evidence must not be tampered with and investigators must be able to safely access the crash site.
The United Nations Security Council called Friday for a credible international investigation. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power threw responsibility on Russia. “Russia must end this war,” she said.
The impending investigation could be complicated by the fact that the jet went down in a war zone.
“Our efforts are complicated by the presence of insurgents in the area,” a duty officer for the Ukrainian State Emergency Service told NBC News on Thursday. “The place is controlled by the militants — our people at the crash site are followed by armed men.”
Obama said it was in Putin’s direct control to halt the flow of arms into eastern Ukraine. He said a group of separatists could not shoot down a passenger plane “without sophisticated equipment and training – and that has been coming from Russia.”
The United States imposed a new round of sanctions on Russia just a day before the crash, specifically in response to Russia’s continued involvement in Ukraine.
“We’ve been clear from the outset that we want Russia to take the path that would result in peace in Ukraine,” Obama said. “But so far, at least, Russia has failed to take that path. Instead, it has continued to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists. It has also failed to use its influence to press the separatists to abide by a cease-fire. That’s why, together with our allies, we’ve imposed growing costs on Russia.”
Obama also addressed the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine. Obama spoke by phone Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “made clear that the United States and our friends and allies are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life.”
“And we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and that all of us are working hard to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November of 2012,” Obama added.
According to the White House, President Obama spoke today with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom about the Malaysia Airlines flight tragedy and “agreed that an independent, full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation must begin immediately.”