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White House: No decision yet on Ukraine sanctions

– The White House expressed renewed outrage Thursday over the continuing deadly violence in Ukraine but reached no decision on whether to impose sanctions.

Military action by the U.S. is not among the options being considered, deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said. “The options available to the president are being considered with some urgency,” he told reporters, adding that sanctions were the only measure under active consideration.

Vice President Joe Biden relayed the sanctions threat directly to President Viktor Yanukovych in a phone call Thursday with the Ukrainian leader. The White House said Biden also urged Yanukovych to pull back security forces immediately – including snipers, police, military and paramilitary units, and irregular forces.

At the Pentagon, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, a military spokesman, told reporters that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had tried to reach the Ukrainian defense ministry to discuss the violence, but “they have been unresponsive to our requests.” Kirby said the lack of responsiveness was unprecedented.

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the violence in a statement Thursday night, saying he felt “anger and anguish.” He called on Yanukovych to undertake serious negotiations with opposition leaders immediately.

“The violence must stop,” Kerry said. “We unequivocally condemn the use of force against civilians by security forces, and urge that those forces be withdrawn immediately. The people of Ukraine and the international community will hold to account those who are responsible for what has occurred, and the United States has already begun implementing sanctions through travel bans on Ukrainians responsible for the violence.”

In Brussels, the 28-nation European Union decided Thursday in an emergency meeting to impose sanctions against those behind the violence, including a travel ban and an asset freeze against some Ukrainian officials.

President Barack Obama discussed the situation by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the White House said. Biden also spoke to Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, which shares a border with Ukraine. Biden’s office said he and Tusk discussed what the U.S., Poland and the EU are doing to try to end the violence.

Earnest said the Ukrainian government has the primary responsibility for keeping the peace but that the Ukrainian people must also respect their right to peaceful protest. He said “having those rights trampled” is a source of some concern to the U.S., and again called on the government and the opposition to negotiate a political solution to restore order.

“Basic human rights that we hold so dear in this country are not being respected in that country,” Earnest said.

Ukrainian government snipers fired upon advancing protesters in the capital of Kiev on Thursday, killing at least 70 people and wounding hundreds of others.

At least 101 people have died this week in the clashes, according to protesters and Ukrainian authorities, a sharp and deadly turn in three months of mostly peaceful activity.

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