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U.S Wants Peacekeeping Force In Ukraine-Russia Dispute


After President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, the U.S. found itself once again going against allies around the world. But on another foreign policy matter this week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is sounding more in line with European leaders. He says he will keep pressure on Russia when it comes to Ukraine. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Tillerson says he wants to improve ties with Russia, but one thing is standing in the way.


REX TILLERSON: Russia's taking sovereign territory of Ukraine is something that we will never accept. And we appreciate the strong solidarity of European partners in standing up on behalf of Ukraine to restore their sovereign territory to them.

KELEMEN: He was speaking today in Vienna, home to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It's one of the few places where Russia and the U.S. sit down together along with European countries and former Soviet republics. The OSCE has taken the lead in monitoring the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Earlier this year, an American who was working with those monitors was killed, and Tillerson says he thinks a peacekeeping force should be sent in to protect them.


TILLERSON: So we will continue to work with Russia to see if we cannot agree a peacekeeping force that can enter Ukraine, reduce the violence. The violence in Ukraine is up in 2017. More people have died in 2017 than 2016, and this simply has to stop.

KELEMEN: The question is what peacekeepers would do and where they would go. Russia has proposed that peacekeepers monitor cease-fire lines between the Ukrainians and Russian-backed separatists inside Ukraine, but the U.S. and others worry that would consolidate the gains made by those Russian-backed groups. In his speech to the OSCE Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, accused Ukraine of dragging its feet on international efforts to resolve the crisis.


SERGEY LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).

KELEMEN: "The whole responsibility lies with Ukrainian authorities," he said. He later complained that Ukraine and its supporters are trying to, in Lavrov's words, misinterpret Russia's proposals for peacekeepers. For his part, Secretary Tillerson used his speech to blast Russia for, quote, "arming, leading, training and fighting alongside antigovernment forces" in eastern Ukraine. He's calling for a robust peacekeeping force that would be able to control the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia.

European diplomats have indicated they're working well with Tillerson's envoy on this, but they don't see signs that the Russians are really ready to resolve the conflict, and the idea of peacekeepers still seems a long way off. The U.N.'s undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, agrees it is early to do any real planning, but he's keeping close tabs on this discussion.

JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX: As in any other cases, we would need a decision by the Security Council to launch a peacekeeping operation. And even to prepare in some degree of details we would have to have an idea of what the broad parameters and the objectives would be. And I think we're not at this point.

KELEMEN: Lacroix tells NPR there are still many unanswered questions for the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. and Russia both have permanent seats and veto power. Ukraine is a member until the end of the year. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.