Obama, Putin have "constructive" phone call after Ukraine deal

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama held a "constructive" phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Friday as he pressed for swift implementation of a deal framed to end Ukraine's deadly crackdown on protestors.

The call came at a prickly time in US-Russia relations with the two sides at odds over Ukraine, Syria and other issues, but also after Mr Obama took pains to reject the idea that a new Cold War-style confrontation was brewing.

A senior US official described the call as "constructive" but also warned that the agreement reached in Kiev between the government and top opposition leaders was "very, very fragile." Mr Putin and Mr Obama agreed that the Ukraine agreement needed to be swiftly implemented and that all sides needed to refrain from violence.

"President Putin affirmed that Russia wants to remain part of the implementation process. They also talked about the need to stabilize the Ukrainian economy and to get Ukraine back on a peaceful path," the official said, on condition of anonymity.

The call also touched on other issues including Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad, to the fury of the United States, and the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Washington had offered staunch support for protesters in Kiev, demanding political concessions from the Moscow-backed government of President Viktor Yanukovych and had warned of "consequences" if violence, which killed 100 people did not stop.

The White House gave an initial welcome to the deal and praised European Union diplomats who helped to broker it.

'Courageous' opposition leaders

White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was "consistent with what we have advocated in calling for a de-escalation of the violence, constitutional change, a coalition government, and early elections." "We support the efforts of all those who negotiated this agreement, commend the courageous opposition leaders who recognized the need for compromise, and offer the support of the United States in its implementation," Mr Carney said.

"We call for immediate implementation of the initial steps - an end to the violence, amnesty and security normalization, and passage of the constitutional package in (parliament) - to provide space for the negotiations to begin on formation of a technocratic coalition government." Vice President Joe Biden had called Mr Yanukovych on Thursday, warning that the United States was ready to impose sanctions if he did not halt attacks by his security forces on demonstrators which have killed nearly 100 people.

Mr Yanukovych's dramatic decision to hold early elections and form a new unity government was met with caution by tens of thousands gathered on central Kiev's main square.

The deal was signed in the presence of EU envoys, Mr Yanukovych and three top opposition leaders who included boxer turned lawmaker Vitali Klitschko.

A representative for Putin missed the meeting. The White House statement, however, said the deal had been "witnessed" by Russia.

Mr Obama on Wednesday insisted that the United States did not see its many disputes with Russia as symptomatic as a struggle over a Cold War-style "chessboard." Mr Carney expanded on the president's remarks on Friday.

"The president is correct when he says that this is not about the United States and Russia or the West and Russia - this is about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and their desire for the right to choose their own destiny," he said.

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