July 27th, 2014

U.S.: Russia “culpable” for MH17 crash

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes spoke with Crowley about US-Russian relations, the MH17 crash site and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


A full transcript of the interview is available after the jump.



CROWLEY: No cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians. Vladimir Putin pushing all in on Ukraine and Libya, again, too dangerous for American personnel.

I’m joined now by U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes. Ben, it is mind boggling to me that 17 countries lost civilians over a war zone. You know, they are headed for vacation or school or whatever and not a single one of them has stepped up to say, rebels go away. We are coming in, back away from this plane and we will secure it.

BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Candy, actually what we have been doing is working through the U.N. to get access to the crash site. And the Dutch and the Australians have stepped up to the plate. And they have offered to provide police to help secure the crash site. President Obama has been in touch with the prime minister of the Netherlands. He has been in touch with his Australian counterpart, Prime Minister Abbott, and we are supporting their efforts in negotiating with the Ukrainians to get access to the site to provide security so that there’s an international police force that can provide security.

CROWLEY: So, you think that they would send troops or police or whatever you want to call them and they could secure it. How soon?

RHODES: Well, there are active negotiations with the Ukrainians. Those forces are actually prepositioned in Ukraine. These are police forces, not military –


CROWLEY: They are already in Ukraine and could go?

RHODES: Some of them are already there and there are additional police that could be available. And the goal here again is to get access to the site which will tell us important things for the investigation, to recover any remains that are still out there, given how important that is to all the countries involved. And again, the Dutch and Australians have police available to do that.

CROWLEY: Is the White House thinking about giving Ukraine lethal weapons and more specific intelligence to help deal with the flood of weaponry coming from the Soviets?

RHODES: Well, we’re focused on a number of things. First of all we have provided a lot of non-lethal assistance that is relevant to their operations like communications gear, body armor, night vision goggles.

CROWLEY: But they’ve said, we really need lethal weapons.

RHODES: Well, we’ve initiated a discussion with them about what a long term training and equipping relationships would be with Ukraine so they have more modernized and professionalized security forces, so that they can provide for security in the country.

We are also very focused what we can do to help them secure that border. Again, it will be Ukrainians in the lead and I should note that in recent days they had actually made significant gains against the separatists. That’s part of the reason why we think Russia started the flow in all of these heavy weapons.

CROWLEY: So, is that a yes that you are looking at giving them lethal weapons and training them on them so that they can do — you know, we don’t want to put you — troops on the ground obviously…


CROWLEY: …and neither does anybody else. So, you are thinking about lethal weapons, about more intelligence for them?

RHODES: Well, we don’t rule anything out here. So, we haven’t made the decision about certain types of weapons but intelligence we do provide intelligence and we’ve reviewed that. We still think the best thing the United States can do is send a message to Russia through very strong sanctions, coordinated with the Europeans. And I’d expect in the coming days, Candy, you will see the Europeans move out on stronger sanctions.

CROWLEY: As strong as the U.S. sanctions are? As strong as you want Europe to be?

RHODES: We believe so. They indicated —

CROWLEY: You think Angela Merkel will put at risk the energy that flows to Germany with stiff sanctions of the sort the president has been calling for?

RHODES: Yes. The president has spoken to these leaders and they indicated in their meetings last week at the European council that the energy sector, the arms sector, and the financial sector on the table for European sanctions.

We are going to continue to develop that package with the Europeans. We are prepared to do additional things to impose a cost on Russia. And we are confident that there’s going to be strong action.

CROWLEY: A number of people including Hillary Clinton have said Russia bears some responsibility for bringing down this Malaysian flight. Is that where the U.S. government is now? Yes, they do?

RHODES: Absolutely. They trained these separatists. They armed these separatists. So clearly, we believe they are responsible for the shootdown of a plane that came from Russian backed separatist areas with surface-to-air missiles that are very similar to the ones that are being provided by the Russians.

CROWLEY: And the president says he will hold responsible those who have done it. And by that, you believe more sanctions is the way to go even though they haven’t moved them yet?

RHODES: Well, they’ve had an impact. We have seen almost $100 billion of capital flow. We’ve seen their growth projection (INAUDIBLE) zero.

CROWLEY: But he’s putting more equipment into Ukraine, not less. RHODES: Which is why we believe there needs to be additional action which is what we’re focused on.

CROWLEY: How soon?

RHODES: Europe is committed to doing something by the end of July. So, that would be within the week and we will be coordinating with them over the next several days as that package comes together.

CROWLEY: The report that the content of one of the black boxes reveals a missile strike, is that so?

RHODES: Our understanding of the investigation to date is that everything, all the evidence that we have seen corroborates a scenario where it was a missile strike and a very sudden lost of the plane.

CROWLEY: Is that a yes, that the black box (INAUDIBLE)?

RHODES: I haven’t personally reviewed the data but my understanding is that all of the information corroborates the story that –

CROWLEY: That they’re getting from the plane corroborates that it was a missile that hit it.

The Obama Administration has said repeatedly Israel has a right to defend itself. Is there any way it can go too far in defending itself? I talked to the prime minister about, you know, there’s a battle on the ground, there’s a battle on the headlines, and it’s losing the battle on the headlines.

RHODES: Well, the basic principle holds. If there are rockets being fired indiscriminately in Israel, they have a right to defend themselves. Hamas is responsible for the conflict.

We have said that Israel does need to take greater care to avoid civilian casualties and the type of loss of life we’ve seen on both sides in recent days.

CROWLEY: The prime minister told me, they are doing everything they possibly can. Do you think that’s so?

RHODES: I think you can always do more. The U.S. military does that in Afghanistan. We go to great lengths. We don’t have a perfect record. But we believe in densely populated areas like this you have to go the extra mile to avoid loss of civilian life. The best way to do that is through a cease-fire. And so that’s why we focus our diplomatic efforts on getting a calm so then we can negotiate a more comprehensive cease-fire.

CROWLEY: What do you know about what the Palestinian authority is doing, trying to bring about? We heard about a meeting of Hamas is having right now of the possibility that the Palestinian authority under the Abbas name would go to Cairo, something the U.S. would support. RHODES: Absolutely. What Secretary Kerry was focused on in his meetings including with the Israelis and the Palestinian authorities is can we get a common place to stop the violence and then have a further negotiation under the Egyptian lead in Cairo that could bring together Israel, the Palestinians, other players in support of a comprehensive cease-fire that gets to some of these issues like Hamas’ military capabilities and the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

CROWLEY: And lastly Ben, the U.S. had to evacuate personnel from Libya in what looked like a fairly urgent manner recently because things have deteriorated and it’s so dangerous now in Tripoli. How can we look at this as anything other than a failure to follow up after Muammar Gaddafi was taken from the same?

RHODES: Well, what happened here Candy is you have militia’s fighting in the area. Not an attack on U.S. embassy, but rather violence and instability in the area. That’s too close for comfort for us so we moved our diplomats out.

CROWLEY: Yes, I know. I get that. The question is, did the U.S. not pay enough attention to trying to work with the groups to get a solid, stable government in place after it helped undo Muammar Gaddafi?

RHODES: Well, what Gaddafi left was an empty shell of a government. He never really built a state and the institutions of a state. So, you have these militias in place.

What we’re going to do is keep our ambassador in Malta. She’ll be based there to continue to work with the Libyans. We have an envoy who is dedicated to brokering those types of agreements among the different Libyan factions. And in fact President Obama will welcome a Libyan delegation to the summit of African leaders in the coming week. We are going to keep working on it, Candy, because we do believe that there is a huge opportunity in Libya if we can bring the different factions together.

CROWLEY: So, not a failure of U.S. policy?

RHODES: Well again, it points out the difficulties of a post- conflict situation. When you have so many people (INAUDIBLE) of weapons. We still do need to get better, though. I would acknowledge in working with the Europeans and trying to integrate these militias into what can be a truly national Libyan security force.

CROWLEY: Deputy National Security Adviser of the President, Ben Rhodes, thank you for coming.

RHODES: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.