WASHINGTON — President Obama urged Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a one-hour phone call Thursday to pursue a diplomatic solution to his military incursion into Crimea, including direct talks between Russia and Ukraine with outside observers.

Obama also proposed a pullback of troops to pre-existing Russian bases, international monitors to protect the rights of all populations in Ukraine, and support for new Ukrainian elections in May, the White House said in a statement about the conversation with Putin.

“President Obama indicated that there is a way to resolve the situation diplomatically, which addresses the interests of Russia, the people of Ukraine, and the international community,” the White House said.

In its own statement, the Kremlin said Putin told Obama that relations should not suffer over Ukraine.

“The president of Russia emphasized the paramount importance of Russian-US relations for ensuring stability and security in the world,” the Kremlin said. “These relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual — albeit extremely significant — international problems.”

Both sides said that aides would continue negotiations.

The phone call — the first known contact between Obama and Putin since Saturday — came hours after the U.S. president said that new sanctions on Russia will “impose a cost” for its military action in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama also said he opposes a referendum that would allow parts of Crimea to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, saying that would violate Ukraine’s constitution and international law.

While calling for a “path to de-escalation,” Obama also said that “if this violation of international law continues, the resolve of the United States and our allies and the international community will remain firm.”… see more

source: usatoday