Obama to meet with lawmakers on Ukraine

 

President Obama will meet Thursday with congressional leaders to brief them on his trip to Europe and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

The White House said Obama would host House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for a meeting in the Oval Office.

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Obama spent much of his week-long trip through Europe and Saudi Arabia discussing Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula with NATO allies. The United States and other Western powers have denounced the move as a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and international law, and moved to impose economic sanctions against a bank and Russian officials with close ties to the Kremlin.

The governments in Kiev and other Eastern European countries have voiced concern about Russian military exercises immediately across the border from Ukraine. The U.S. has estimated as many as 40,000 troops were gathered along the border.

Earlier this week, the White House said Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have agreed to meet again in hopes of brokering a deal to deescalate the situation — although no firm date has been set.

Over the weekend, Kerry and Lavrov huddled in Paris for nearly four hours in a bid to lower tensions in the region.

On Wednesday, the pair spoke by phone in what the State Department described as a "brief" conversation. 

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the U.S. remained "very concerned about the Russian troops amassed on the border" and could not confirm reports that a small number had been pulled back.

But, she said that the U.S. had not "seen further escalation by Russia," which she described as "a good thing."

"We’ve been working very closely directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov to see if there’s a diplomatic path forward here," she continued. "So that process continues. It’s a difficult one, but it does continue."