President Barack Obama briefly addressed on Thursday reports that a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying nearly 300 people had been reportedly shot down near the Ukrainian border.
“It looks like it may be a terrible tragedy,” Obama said at the start of a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. He said the White House’s “first priority” would be determining whether any U.S. citizens were on board. An adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister has said 23 U.S. citizens were among those on board who were killed in the crash. None of the reported 295 people on board survived.
Obama said his national security team would remain in “close contact” with Ukrainian counterparts. After saying the U.S. would offer “any assistance we can” to the Ukrainian government, Obama quickly moved on to the original purpose of his speech, which was to urge Congress to come together on a long-term infrastructure plan.
The White House also said Vice President Joe Biden, who is travelling to Detroit on Thursday, spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Biden “offered U.S. assistance to help determine what happened and why.”
The White House said Obama spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Thursday at the Kremlin’s request, a conversation in which Putin “noted reports” of the plane crash to Obama.
“During the call, President Putin noted the early reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border,” the White House said in a readout of the call.
The Kremlin also provided a readout on its website: “The Russian leader informed the U.S. president of the report from air traffic controllers that the Malaysian plane had crashed on Ukrainian territory, which had arrived immediately before the phone call.”
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