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POLITICS: PennAve

Obama to host Mahmoud Abbas Monday amid confrontation with Russia

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Politics,White House,Israel,Russia,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Middle East,Palestinians,Ukraine,Crimea,Mahmoud Abbas

President Obama will try to divide his attention between the crisis in Crimea and the Middle East peace process Monday as he hosts a White House visit from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas' visit comes at a delicate time, after Obama spent the weekend warning Russia not to annex Ukraine's Crimean peninsula following an overwhelming vote in favor of secession there.

Obama's visit with Abbas though has been planned for months and comes on the heels of an early March meeting the president held at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which the two leaders discussed the possibility of reaching a framework for negotiations on the peace process.

“The president looks forward to reviewing with President Abbas the progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday.

“They will also discuss our continuing effort to work cooperatively to strengthen the institutions that can support the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry also plans to attend the White House meeting and lunch with Abbas.

But both Obama and Kerry will likely be distracted by the events unfolding in Ukraine and new concerns about Russian military exercises on Ukraine's eastern and southern borders, as well as Saturday's seizure of a Ukrainian gas plant located just north of the Crimea area.

Obama and European allies will face a major test this week on just how far they are willing to go to help Kiev enforce its sovereignty and protect its borders.

European Union officials are scheduled to meet Monday to consider whether to enact sanctions on Russia, including travel bans and the freezing of key individuals' foreign assets.

Obama phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday – his third call over the past two weeks – to again warn him that the West is poised to punish Russia for the referendum.

Obama said the referendum “would never be recognized by the United States and the international community.”

More than 95 percent of ballots cast were in favor of joining Russia but the West views the vote itself as a violation of the Ukrainian government's constitutional authority and its outcome as illegitimate because Russian troops were occupying the area.

Last week, both Obama and Kerry promised there would be serious repercussions if Russia continued with the referendum.

Kerry on Friday met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, but the talks yielded no breakthroughs, and U.S. officials continued to plead with Russia to reverse course.

Carney in a statement Sunday after the referendum vote called Russia's actions in recent days "dangerous and destabilizing" and noted that the United Nations Security Council recognized Moscow's violations of international law in a vote Saturday that only Russia opposed.

"In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another," Carney said. "We call on all members of the international community to continue to condemn such actions, to take concrete steps to impose costs, and to stand together in support of the Ukrainian people and Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty."

Amid these crucial decisions, Obama will proceed with previously scheduled White House events and fundraisers.

On Tuesday, he will award 24 Army veterans the Medal of Honor for Conspicuous Gallantry at a White House event and will attend a fundraiser to benefit the Democratic National Committee that evening.

On Thursday, he plans to travel to Orlando, Fla. for an event on the economy followed by fundraisers in Miami for the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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Author:

Susan Crabtree

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner