Obama: 'The Ukrainian People Are Able to Assemble Without the Fear of Repression'

During a visit to Mexico, the president gives a statement on the violence against protesters in Kiev.
3:00 | 02/19/14

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Transcript for Obama: 'The Ukrainian People Are Able to Assemble Without the Fear of Repression'
This is a special room. I'm Michelle Franzen in New York with -- ABC news digital special report Ukraine on fire. The clashes between the protesters and police so severe and creating scenes like this. This amateur -- video shows -- of independence square and -- in flames let's -- -- just. -- we have been deeply engaged with our European partners as well as both of the Ukrainian government and the opposition. To try to assure that that pilots and you don't -- game and. Although burning -- -- and -- cannibals and Bandana masks we cannot be. But we -- -- -- primarily responsible. For making sure. Is dealing with a peaceful protesters. In an appropriate way. That. The Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without your. Want to be very clear that. As we worked through these next. Several days. And Ukraine that we are to be watching very carefully and we expect. The Ukrainian government. To show restraint. To not. To violence in dealing with. Peaceful protesters. We've said that we also expect -- protesters to -- -- And we'll be monitoring very carefully the situation. Recognizing -- along with our European partners in the international community there will be consequences. If people step over the line. And yeah you don't it was going to be -- we're. Aggressive -- -- has -- this is done and my interest on the books on the -- Now the bill currently -- hospital syndicate and Washington portal. Another good that's just join them don't express units demolished subsequently we have you Director General customers -- -- for some. And that's and that's to tune -- when -- when we also must -- Grand piano -- David Colombo dating whom we got Obama -- Plan. But for a New Orleans Jim -- -- it -- that is him. People look at the latest on this season -- to develop film and thinking -- -- -- numbers officers use their lawsuit. Let's go soon and by -- -- -- Williams money to understand them in a supersonic -- Once this is not when the -- that includes picture that the Ukrainian military. Does not step in what should be. So the issues that he was all bicycles. Use home news -- She's -- must grant amnesty mongering and must and it's Williams Shimon -- kind of and on and taxes so the United States will continue to engage with all sides in the dispute and Ukraine. Ultimately our interest is to make sure that the British people can express their law. Desires. We believe that large majority of ukrainians are entrusted in. It. Integration win. -- the commerce and cultural exchanges. That are possible for them to expand opportunity and prosperity. But regardless of how -- your creative people determined. Their own future report that it is the people themselves. That make those decisions and that's what the United States will continue to strive. To achieve. Who went to Mass. -- -- -- and it doesn't gross me. You have been listening to President Obama as he stressed. -- the issue unfolding in Ukraine today 88 these comments of course at a bilateral meeting in Mexico he was meeting with. Mexico's president there Enrique Pena nieto who want to show you some live pictures again back in the Ukraine at the capitol and Kia have. This is outside the parliament building independence square. You can see fires still burning there in that square this -- amateur -- video in this area. Also some reports that 25 people had died in the last 24 hours alone. And reports of over 400. People. Injured. As. Government forces have been moving into that square in the past 24 hours they say to move protesters out and to restore order. Of course President Obama along with other western leaders have been strongly. Is coming out against. What was then what has been going on in the Ukraine capital. Over the course of these last 24 hours these protests been taking place over the course of the last two and a half. Three months in that area protesters are calling for the crane president Viktor Yanukovych is. Resignation. However it. Yanukovych is calling those protesters terrorists having. Forces move into that area -- that he will restore order just today the embattled president replace the army chief Wednesday. And the military reiterating again that they would take part in a national. Anti terrorist operation to restore order so again President Obama along with other leaders from France and Germany coming out -- strong opposition. Of what we see unfolding in these life pictures that the in the Ukraine. The capital that's Kia. And also saying that it will be up to the Ukrainian people to determine their future here making certain that. The Ukrainian government also note also hears that sanctions will not be out of line as well as other consequences. As people step over the line of what what that might be. Still remains unclear at this hour you're looking at file that he announced earlier in the day. That's square and -- A lot of damage there a lot of people still in that square many people deciding to stay there as forces move in. Again president -- bombing Obama adding to the international scrutiny and pressure on the Ukraine government to take measures to end the deadly violence and Kia. The president saying once again there will be consequences of people step over that line. And he's also calling for calm as well as other leaders. In the west and along with Russia calling for calm and for peace in that region of course all of this has -- plane out. With the backdrop of course. Of the Olympics still going on and right now we want to bring in -- -- who has been traveling. With the president Jim can you give us an idea of how things are unfolding there along with these bilateral meetings. Well of course was -- this was not planned this was not supposed to be part of this one day meeting between. The presidents of the presence of the United States and Mexico the prime minister of Canada. This of course of the -- -- events taking over -- taking control. The president announcing this morning through his spokesman. That he would be addressing the issue of Ukraine. We had the other leaders and then to the public which he has just done which we just saw. It's kind of on a two track thing going on right now the president the United States. Warning. Both sides but especially speaking to the government in Ukraine. That if they step over the line there will be consequences. He didn't say what the consequences would be. But in the background his his people -- with the National Security Council did briefed reporters on the plane. From. The united sates to Mexico and talked about sanctions saying that sanctions against Ukraine -- in the full tool -- Of the things that the United States with participating would do if things got out of control. And then secretary of state John Kerry overseas in Paris saying today. That sanctions are in fact in order and that will be discussed with the Europe the European leaders to sanction the Ukrainian government if the violence does not stop. So -- the president did not mention sanctions specifically. His people. Including those in the National Security Council and the secretary of state are in fact mentioning and saying out loud. That there could be sanctions against the state of Ukraine for what's going on -- -- what they hope they're doing according to secretary's secretary of state -- is by mentioning. And threatening in fact. Sanctions that -- wolf quote -- change the environment. In the Ukraine calm things down let the Ukrainian government know that there could be consequences. As the president said. -- -- watching now as we see these images unfold over the last 24 hours obviously the president's been. -- watching matter has been briefed on that as well what's he forced to make a statement like this especially on the heels of hearing from secretary of state -- earlier today. I think he wanted to was he forced dude it's certainly by events it was not on the agenda. For this -- this trilateral meeting here in Mexico. If it first on the agenda yesterday. And then overnight of course secretary of state Kerry began making statements about it after seeing what was going on in -- in -- And then that this morning when the president got on the plane to leave for Washington DC to Mexico. His aides did in fact say Jay Carney the secretary the -- Press Secretary. Told reporters that the president would be talking. To the leaders hear about this issue. Which wasn't scheduled. And that he would also make public statements there's also one more public statement the president. As likely to make there is a news conference later this evening around 715730. With all three of the the leaders here who are meeting we'll have a press conference and expected to talk a bit about the Ukrainian situation as well. And I want to ask you about something the US -- slightly embarrassed when a diplomatic phone call was -- with some few choice words from State Department officials. Says the US have allies -- it takes this harsh stance. Well that the Europeans are actually moving up front on this part. -- -- comments all over Europe today. From all the leaders from Germany from Poland from France all of the leaders they're saying that they were going to consider. Sanctions that they wanted. The Ukrainian government to know that remember this originally began back in November. Because. The Ukrainian government the Ukrainian parliament had in fact voted. To have closer relationships. With Europe. And so Europe has been involved in this from the beginning. And it was only after the Ukrainian president put a halt to that agreement and said no I'm not going to be get closer to. Europe -- -- instead be closer to Russia. That in fact. This all began in the protest began. So Europe has been really out in front of this the United States has -- going to join Europe if there are sanctions. To talk about sanctions so really. They do have allies United States does have allies and in fact it's Europe that is taking the lead in in in the United States is behind them. With year of taking the lead on this -- how much does the US is harsh words add to that chorus do they have a lot of influence. Well -- certainly the United States has. A lot of influence both among European leaders that gives them the understanding the United States is behind what they're saying. It also these these words also -- get -- -- strength of those who are protesting. In of the Ukraine. Unit of course the president did tell them to remain peaceful for some indication that the that the protesters. Last night begins. To not be peaceful to in fact. Go toward violence according to the and according to the Ukrainian government they're the ones who fortunately were starting this so the president was very careful to say. That while he's speaking to the Ukrainian government they have the ultimate responsibility. Of making sure that this is a peaceful resolution. Done by the civilian part of the government and not by the military. There were also warnings to the protesters to stay peaceful. -- Matalin thank you traveling with the president in Mexico for more on this I want to bring an ABC news political director Rick Klein. -- it seems like the stances some bipartisan support also in Washington is that your sense. That's right and I think that -- actually present Obama is a little -- -- the game when it comes to the bill harsher calls on the Ukrainian government to show restraint we've heard. Republican senators for them. Better part of last couple of days maybe up -- in the week. Encouraging the administration get more involved and take a hard to take a harder line to -- clear that this cannot be. Acceptable behavior -- struck as far as the -- is concerned. Of course -- a Russian relationship that is a very front senator through all of this and the middle of the -- Olympics. Russia so important to. Not just the Ukraine situation but also what's going on right now in Syria and -- the broader Middle East so the Russian relationship very important here but yes I think it's fair to say the president with his announcement today has bipartisan support. Back home in Washington. You know -- the president coming out with very harsh words today very hard line stance but you mentioned that you say he's pretty late to the game here of course these protests have been taking place. For over two and a half months escalating so what we see on these life pictures in the last 24 hours. Why do you think it -- President Obama so long to react to this. In part this Obama White House has been burned by getting involved in things a little too soon and I think the the experience with the Arab Spring. Probably bears that out I think in addition to that. The new White House has to be careful in terms of how they respond when they respond it one of these very specific that this is about the you can Ukrainian government and the extent you hold them responsible there are people all over the world all the time who are upset at their government and they have all kinds of crackdowns that are around that. That's not enough to merit a presidential response except -- really extraordinary circumstances so. You don't wanna look like your meddling in internal politics I think you get a lot of push back from Ukrainian leaders if you do that I think the White House preference here -- to try to -- this new deal with this through back channels we know about a call that the Vice President Biden made just yesterday to the presidents of Ukraine did to try to make this seem kind of encouragement it's only when that causes -- to be working when the message isn't being heard that the president has to go out I think today's statement. Was than usual in his bluntness it was very clear as to -- in saying publicly what exactly the government has to do and that the United States would be watching and would be reacting to it and that. The the -- the very explicit threat of sanctions as is response or maybe more than that. I think it's part of the president was trying to -- well let's talk about that these consequences -- the military does act what would the consequences look like. Economic sanctions are really what's on the table right now I don't think there's anyone is looking for a much beyond that yet depends on how bad this -- but keep in mind if you start. Meddling to much in Ukraine you do star of the Russian beast and you -- -- be careful there -- so I think. This is has to be seen in the broader context of US Russian relations which as I -- very complicated with a lot of different pieces the United States. Does not want let to let Russia exert more influence over and over Ukraine that would eventually extend to the other so former Soviet satellite republics and is around Russia to have to be careful about that and I think they have to be careful. About any kind of response here this is -- -- we're nowhere near. Calls even from Republicans and this for boots on the ground anything like that we're talking about economic sanctions which are important to the Ukraine government. If they want in a lot of ways to be closer to the west they wanna see the dollars from America and its allies flow as well they want Europe as a closer ally. And that's why he'd be the message being sent it the Ukrainian government has to choose its actions very wisely. As we see these images as we see the violence escalates it in -- -- square over in -- We're hearing a lot of different labels of course we've been hearing protests we're now hearing uprising -- -- -- all sorts of labels what are you hearing in Washington of how this is being characterized. I think the the extent that the Washington wants to characterize this as protests and that's where they see the Ukrainian government. Potentially overreacting and I think that's an important distinction. We're not talking about and attempted coup and overthrow of the government once we start talking about that. That raises different issues for Ukrainian officials and I think even the United States would recognize that if we're talking about outright rebellion an attempt to overthrow the government that's quite a bit different. The president's statement very clear wasn't about it wasn't supporting anyone who look to change the government or -- do you really change. Big government policies it's about expressing one's beliefs in in supporting his support for free speech that is a universal -- that America likes to. Espouse anywhere in the world and certainly anywhere in Ukraine right now and that I think is where where it's being cast if -- changes into something more than that -- there are indications. As Jim mentioned about more violence about attempts of something larger than just. A a peaceful protests or even you know slightly more less than peaceful protest. That's where the US has to be careful because that's the kind of thing that you don't want -- be -- around. And then just one last question -- I just want to ask you as we watch these images of course we've seen. All sorts of uprisings around the world the last few years we're watching these images we know that there's fires burning we don't know exactly how they -- they've been started. What sort of information and sort of confirmed information are we able to get out of that region. Well I think in Ukraine is actually did better than in some previous circumstances there's -- it pretty wired population there are western journalists who were on site some of them actually endanger. There's information is able to flow in and out of the country at a pretty regular students -- however the fog of war persists -- in uprisings like this even if they are on American soil of the unclear exactly what's happening in any given time so. It's complicated obviously civilians in danger. America has to be careful about protecting just American assets here. But also at the same time be speaking to the broader implications here and that has to do with. Where the Ukraine stands with regard to the west with regard to Russia with -- United States. ABC news political director Rick Klein thank you for joining us thank you. And stay with abcnews.com for the latest developments on Ukraine and the rest of the headlines for now I'm Michelle Franzen a New York with this ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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