HIGHLIGHTS-Obama comments on Ukraine in The Hague

THE HAGUE, March 25 Tue Mar 25, 2014 1:42pm EDT

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THE HAGUE, March 25 (Reuters) - Following are key quotes from U.S. President Barack Obama during a question and answer session following the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on Tuesday.

"I don't think that any of us have been under any illusion that Russia has been very interested in controlling what happens to Ukraine. That's not new, that's been the case for years now, dating back to the Orange revolution."

"What we have said consistently, throughout this process, is that it is up to the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions about how they organise themselves and who they interact with."

"It has always been our belief that Ukraine is going to have a relationship to Russia. There has always been a strong bond between the two countries, but that does not justify Russia encroaching on Ukraine's territorial integrity or sovereignty. That's exactly what's happened and I said very early on that should Russia do so, there would be consequences and working with our European partners and international partners we have put in place sanctions that have already had some impact on the Russian economy."

"Now, moving forward we have said, and I want to be very clear about this, we are not recognising what has happened in Crimea. The notion that a referendum, sloppily organised over the course of two weeks, would somehow justify the breaking off of Crimea and the annexation by Russia, that somehow that would be a valid process, I think the overwhelming majority of the world rejects."

"But we are also concerned about further encroachment by Russia into Ukraine, so what I announced and what the European Council announced was that we were consulting and putting in place the framework, the architecture for additional sanctions, additional costs, should Russia take this next step."

"What we also said and will continue to say is that there is another path available to Russia. The Ukrainian government has said it is prepared to negotiate with Russia, that it is prepared to recognise its international obligations and the international community has been supportive of a diplomatic process that would allow a de-escalation of tensions, a moving back of Russian troops from Ukraine's borders and rapidly organised elections that allow the Ukrainian people to chose their leadership."

"My expectation is that if the Ukrainian people are allowed to make their decisions, their decision will be that they want to have a relationship with Europe and they want to have a relationship with Russia, this it is not a zero sum game."

"Prime Minister Yatseniuk and the current government have shown remarkable restraint and are prepared to go down that diplomatic path."

"It is now up to Russia to act responsibly and show itself once again to be willing to abide by international rules and norms."

"If it fails to do so, there there will be additional costs and those will have some disruptive effects to the global economy but will have the greatest impact on Russia."

SECTORAL SANCTIONS

"On the issue of sectoral sactions. So far what we have done is we have put in place sanctions that that impact individuals."

"We have identified one bank in Russia that was well known to be the bank of choice for many of the persons who support and facilitate Russian officials from carrying out some of these activities."

"What we've held off on are more broad-based sanctions that would impact entire sectors of the Russian economy. It has not just been my suggestion but it has also been the European Council's suggestion that should Russia go further, such sectoral sanctions would be appropriate and that would include areas potentially like energy or finance or arms sales or trade that exists between Europe and the United States and Russia and what we are doing now is, at a very technical level, examining the impacts of each of these sanctions."

"Some particular sanctions would hurt some countries more than others, but all of us recognise that we have to stand up for a core principle, that lies at the heart of the international order and that facilitated the European Union and the incredible prosperity and peace that Europe has now enjoyed for decades."

"Although it could cause some disruptions to each of our economies, or certain industries, what I have been encouraged by is the firmness and willingness on the part of all countries to look at ways in which they can participate in this process. Our preference throughout will be to resolve this diplomatically, but I think we are prepared, as we have already shown, to take the next step if the situation gets worse."

"Finally on Ukraine, it is very important that we spend as much effort on bolstering the economy inside Ukraine and making sure that the elections proceed in an orderly fashion. So my hope is that the IMF is able to complete a package for Ukraine rapidly to stabilise their finances and their economy. The OSCE and other international organisations are sending in observers and monitors and we are providing technical assistance to make sure that the elections are free and fair. "

"The sooner those elections take place the sooner the economy is stabilised, the better positioned the Ukrainian people will be in terms of mananaging what is a very challenging situation."

CRIMEA, NATO

"On the issue of Crimea, it is not a done deal, in the sense that the international community by and large is not recognising the annexation of Crimea."

"The facts on the ground are that the Russian military controls Crimea."

"There has been no evidence that Russian speakers are in any way threatened."

"With respect to the broader issue of states that are bordering Russia and what assurances do they have about future land grabs, as you put it, obviously some of those countries are NATO countries and as NATO allies we believe that the cornerstone of our security is making sure that all of us, including the United States, are abiding by article five and the notion of collective defence and what we are now doing is organising even more intensively to make sure that we have contingency plans and that every one of our NATO allies has assurances that we will act in their defence against any threats."

"That's what NATO is all about and that has been the cornerstone of peace in the transatlantic region now for several generations so we will uphold that and there will be a series of NATO consultations, a NATO ministerial is going to be coming up, in which we further develop and deepen those plans, but I have not seen any NATO members who have not expressed a firm determination, with respect to NATO members."

"Now those border countries that are outside of NATO, what we can do is what we are doing with Ukraine, which is trying to make sure there is sufficient international pressure and a spotlight shine on the situation in some of these countries and that we are also doing everything we can to bolster their economies and to make sure that through various diplomatic and economic initiatives that they feel supported and that they know that we stand by them. But when it comes to a potential military response, that is defined by NATO membership and that is what NATO is about."

REGIONAL POWER

"With respect to Mr Romney's assertion that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe, the truth is that America has got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbours, not out of strength but out of weakness."

"Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades, since the breakup of the Soviet Union. We (US) have considerable influence on our neighbours. We generally don't need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them."

"The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily an lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more. "

"My response, then continues to be what I believe today, which is Russia's actions are a problem, they do not pose the number one national security threat to to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned whenit comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan." (Reporting by Jeff Mason, Adrian Croft, Justyna Pawlak and Thomas Escritt in The Hague; Paul Taylor in Brussels; Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; editing by Geert De Clercq)

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