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March 12, 2014 AT 12:07 PM
President Barack Obama expressed hope Wednesday that a referendum on the future of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula can be halted, as he met with the new leader of the former Soviet republic. Sitting side by side in the Oval Office with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Obama said he hoped last-ditch diplomatic efforts might lead to a "rethinking" of Sunday's Russian-backed referendum. The bill stops short of going after Russian banks or energy companies as some legislators proposed, but it would give Secretary of State John Kerry more leeway as he readies for diplomatic talks with his Russian counterpart in Europe on Friday.