Obama's warning: Energy 'central focus' of deeper sanctions


President Obama called energy a "central focus" of deeper sanctions on Russia if its troops move further into Ukraine.

"I think energy is obviously a central focus of our efforts," Obama said Wednesday of additional sanctions while speaking at the Palais Des Beaux Arts in Belgium. "This entire event, I think, has pointed to the need for Europe to look at how it can further diversify its energy sources."

Calls for expedited liquefied natural gas exports to Ukraine and Europe have intensified in recent weeks, as Russia shows no signs of backing down. 

Tensions remain high between Russia and the West, after Russian forces moved into the Crimean Peninsula and annexed the region earlier this month.

Republicans are clamoring for the administration to act faster in approving natural gas exports, but the Energy Department contends the process isn't the problem. The export terminals that have currently been approved by the department would not be ready to send natural gas overseas until 2015 at the earliest.

Obama also noted that the open market is another roadblock for getting natural gas to Eastern European countries. 

"We've already licensed, authorized the export of as much natural gas each day as Europe uses each day. But it's going into the open market. It's not targeted directly. It's going through private companies, who get these licenses, and they make decisions on the world market about where that energy is going to be sold," Obama said. "The question is whether through our energy ministers, and at the highest levels we're able to find ways in which we can accelerate this process of diversification."

Once trade agreements are in place, Obama said, the flow of natural gas to Europe would be "easier."