July 19, 2014 / 4:15 PM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 2-Kerry tells Russia's Lavrov investigators must get access to Ukraine crash site

(Adds State Department comments on Kerry’s phone call with Lavrov)

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW, July 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday, stressed that investigators must get full access to the site of the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine, the State Department said.

Kerry told Lavrov the United States is “very concerned” over reports that the remains of victims and debris from the site of Thursday’s crash have been removed or tampered with, the department said in a statement.

Kerry said Washington was also concerned over denial of “proper access” to the crash site in eastern Ukraine for international investigators and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the statement said.

In an earlier account of the phone call, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov and Kerry had agreed that all evidence from the downed plane, including flight recorders, should be made available for international investigation and that experts should be given access to work on the site.

“(They) agreed on the main - it is necessary to ensure an absolutely unbiased, independent and open international investigation of the Malaysian airliner crash in eastern Ukraine on July 17,” the ministry said.

The State Department’s account of the call did not mention agreement, reflecting the Obama administration’s view that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government should exert more pressure on pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukrainian government.

While stopping short of blaming Russia for the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in which 298 people died, President Barack Obama accused Russia on Friday of failing to stop the violence that made it possible to shoot down the plane. The United States has said the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from rebel territory.

According to Moscow’s account of the call, Kerry and Lavrov said all sides should continue to work toward the goals outlined on April 17 in Geneva aimed at ending hostilities and launching a transparent settlement process involving all Ukrainian regions.

“Lavrov and Kerry have agreed to use the influence of Russia and the United States on the opposing Ukrainian sides in order to encourage them to move in that direction,” the Russian ministry said.

The State Department put the onus on Russia, saying Kerry urged Russia to take “immediate and clear actions to reduce tensions in Ukraine.”

Such actions would be to “call on pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine to lay down arms, release all hostages and engage in a political dialogue toward peace with the Ukrainian government; to halt the flow of weapons and fighters into eastern Ukraine; and to allow OSCE observers to help secure the border,” the State Department said. (Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Mohammad Zargham)

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