Obama, European leaders discuss Ukraine, global security

U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders held a video conference on Tuesday to discuss the Ukraine crisis, and France said all agreed that a "strong reaction" would be necessary if the ceasefire reached last month in Minsk was violated.

Washington/Paris: U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders held a video conference on Tuesday to discuss the Ukraine crisis, and France said all agreed that a "strong reaction" would be necessary if the ceasefire reached last month in Minsk was violated.

The talk held at 11:30 a.m. EST (1630 GMT) between Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, as well as the head of the European Council, was also to cover global security issues, the White House said.

The virtual meeting overlapped a speech before a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose appearance stirred controversy because it was orchestrated by Obama`s Republican rivals.

The video conference came amid continuing violence in Ukraine despite the two-week-old ceasefire agreement, as leaders weigh the role for observers and peacekeepers and the possibility of further sanctions on Russia for supporting Ukrainian rebels.

The United States has also said it is still considering the possibility of sending Kiev defensive weapons.

The office of French President Francois Hollande said in a statement that the parties reiterated their support for the Minsk deal.

"They have agreed that a strong reaction from the international community would be necessary in case of a major breach of the process put in place in Minsk," the statement read.

It also said the parties wanted to bolster the resources of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a European rights and security watchdog.

Ukraine and Western governments have accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support separatists in eastern Ukraine despite the peace deal reached on Feb. 12. Moscow has denied providing such support.

On Tuesday, Kiev announced its highest casualty toll in several days, with three Ukrainian servicemen dead and nine wounded amid pro-Russian shelling.

European leaders on Monday said they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire agreement and of the removal of weapons.

Later this week, Ukraine`s parliament is expected to back Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko`s request for international peacekeepers to monitor the conflict. That idea, however, has faced a chilly reception in Europe.

Besides Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held the call with Obama. European Council President Donald Tusk also participated.

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