President Barack Obama’s press secretary released a statement suggesting that Russian government deserves some blame for the July 17 shoot-down of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 aircraft with 295 people aboard.
Officials also said he’ll be spending the weekend in Camp David, a presidential retreat in Maryland.
The late-Friday trip is more likely to be a huddle with national security staff and political advisers, where Obama can grapple with a series of international crises — including the shoot-down and the Arab attack on Israel — plus various domestic issues, including the border crisis and his declining poll ratings.
“While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training,” the spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Most of the dead were Malaysians or Dutch. But the toll included 41 Australians and eight Brits, according to the airline. Various additional reports say 23 Americans died, including some prominent scientists working on the AIDS sexual disease, but those reports have yet to be confirmed by the U.S. government.
“This incident only highlights the urgency with which we continue to urge Russia to immediately take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support a sustainable cease-fire and path toward peace that the Ukrainian government has consistently put forward,” Earnest said.
It is unclear, however, if Obama will try to rally European and Asian countries against Russia, which has been supplying sophisticated weaponry to the ethnic Russian militias in the breakaway eastern portions of Ukraine.
Obama spent much of the Thursday campaigning in Delaware, continuing with plans to give a speech about infrastructure spending, and attending two fundraisers in New York, after Russian President Vladimir Putin called him to relay news of the shoot-down.
In a departure from routine practices, the White House did not immediately provide a description of the president’s speeches at the fundraisers.
He did take time on Thursday to call the prime ministers of Malaysia and of Holland, from where the aircraft departed for Malaysia.
“President Obama called Prime Minister [Mark] Rutte of the Netherlands this evening to express condolences to the people of the Netherlands for the tragic death of Dutch citizens traveling on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The President told the Prime Minister the United States was prepared to contribute immediate assistance to support a prompt, full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation,” said a White House statement.