White House welcomes deal in Ukraine

The White House said it welcomed an agreement signed Friday by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders that will reduce the president's powers and initiate early elections.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the agreement was “consistent with what we have advocated in calling for a de-escalation of the violence, constitutional change, a coalition government, and early elections.”

“We support the efforts of all those who negotiated this agreement, commend the courageous opposition leaders who recognized the need for compromise, and offer the support of the United States in its implementation,” Carney said. “Now, the focus must be on concrete action to implement this agreement, which we will be monitoring closely.”

The White House also stressed that “there must be accountability for those responsible for the violence and the casualties that have resulted since the crisis began” and said the United States “remained prepared” to impose sanctions if initial steps outlined in the peace deal were not implemented.

The agreement was negotiated overnight by European foreign ministers, and came amid threats of economic sanctions from the European Union and Obama administration. Opposition protesters have flooded the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, and clashes between government forces and demonstrators have left dozens dead.

Under the deal, presidential elections will be held sometime in 2014 — ahead of the originally scheduled March 2015 contest. Ukraine will also revert to a 2004 version of its constitution, under which parliament had greater authority to name government ministers — including the prime minister. The parliament also moved to fire the interior minister blamed by opposition leaders for the recent spate of violence.

The deal came after Vice President Biden warned Yanukovych that the U.S. was prepared to sanction government officials during a phone call Thursday night.

Biden called on Yanukovych to immediately pull back police, snipers, military and paramilitary units, and “strongly condemned” the violence ravaging the country, according to the White House.

“The vice president urged President Yanukovych to take immediate and tangible steps to work with the opposition on a path forward that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Ukrainian people,” the White House said in a statement.

President Obama also consulted with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday. European foreign ministers traveled to Kiev to help broker the peace deal.