By Rebecca Shabad - 07/17/14 12:06 PM EDT
President Obama on Thursday said the “world is watching” reports of the downed Malaysia Airlines jetliner in an area of eastern Ukraine held by Russian separatists.
“It looks like it might be a terrible tragedy,” Obama said in Delaware, adding that his team is trying to determine whether there were any Americans on the plane. “That is our first priority.”
“The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened, and why,” he said.
Ukrainian officials have said the Malaysia Airlines 777, carrying nearly 300 people, was shot down by Russian separatists, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a briefing that the department can’t confirm reports about casualties or the cause of the crash.
“The U.S. Embassy in Kiev is in close contact with Ukrainian authorities on this incident,” Psaki said.
Asked whether State knows if U.S. citizens were on board, she said, “We don’t have any additional details. We are looking of course to obtain that information.” “Obviously events are very fluid on the ground,” she added.
Reporters pressed Psaki about whether the U.S. believes pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are responsible, but she said she's “not going to speculate on this for obvious reasons. In terms of the causes, the individuals on board, I have nothing else from the U.S. government.”
Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Thursday, with Putin bringing up the crash, according to the White House.
Vice President Biden separately spoke with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Biden offered Ukraine's government assistance during the call on determining the cause of the crash.
The Senate Intelligence Committee was to be briefed about the plane crash during its weekly briefing, a committee staffer confirmed to The Hill.
“Many innocents were killed today. It is horrifying, and we await the facts,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “Right now, we should all take a moment to reflect, count our blessings, and convey our prayers to the loved ones of the victims.”
The crash of the Malaysian flight comes the same day Ukraine’s military accused Russia of shooting down a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet that was on military operations Wednesday in eastern Ukraine, according to Reuters.
Russian separatists have been battling the Ukrainian government since Ukraine's former president was toppled in a coup. The coup led Russia to move its military to the Ukrainian border and to annex the region of Crimea, which had been a part of Ukraine.
The Obama administration and western governments have imposed economic sanctions against Russia over what they say has been that country's interference in Ukraine. Putin's government has been accused by the U.S. of backing Russian separatists in Ukraine.
Just on Wednesday, the Obama administration announced its latest set of economic sanctions on Russia. Putin and Obama also discussed those measures during Thursday's call.
The Malaysia Airlines flight was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew members. The airline said in a message on twitter that it had lost contact with the flight, which it said was approximately 50 kilometers fro the Russia-Ukraine border.
"Flight MH17 operated on a Boeing 777 departed Amsterdam at 12.15pm (Amsterdam local time) and was estimated to arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 6.10 am (Malaysia local time) the next day," it said.
This is the second calamity to confront Malaysia Airlines in a short period of time. Earlier this year one of its plances disappeared in southeast Asia.
That plane, which was carrying 239 passengers, has still not been found.
—Justin Sink and Keith Laing contributed to this report, which was last updated at 3:20 p.m.