Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said Wednesday in a detailed defense and explanation of the U.S. response to the escalating crisis in Ukraine.
And new sanctions could be imposed as early as Friday, with key Putin allies, institutions and top oligarchs among the targets, other senior administration officials said.
Obama told CBS News Wednesday that the current sanctions are hurting Russia’s economy and will have negative long-term consequences.
“What I’ve said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences,” he said. “And what you’ve already seen is the Russian economy weaker, capital fleeing out of Russia. Mr. Putin’s decisions are not just bad for Ukraine, over the long term, they’re going to be bad for Russia.”
Senior administration officials are in Brussels coordinating the rollout of the new sanctions with European allies. All parties are waiting for the results of talks set for Thursday involving Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union. Secretary of State John Kerry is representing the United States in those talks in Geneva. Expectations for a breakthrough at the talks are low.
White House officials now say that sectoral sanctions – those that cut off a portion of the Russian economy – will not be enacted unless Russia attempts a full-on invasion of Ukraine. Last month, Obama signed an executive order giving the United States the power to impose such sanctions.
The United States and Israel are discussing the possible release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard as part of efforts to save fragile Middle East peace negotiations, according to sources familiar with the talks.
No decisions have been made about Pollard's release, which the sources cautioned was far from certain and would need to be approved by President Barack Obama. Pollard's possible release was being discussed as part of a broader agreement that had not been finalized.
Talk of Pollard's possible release came as Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Israel Monday to try and mediate a dispute between Israel and the Palestinians over the release of Palestinian prisoners.
In exchange for Pollard's release, the sources said that Israel would have to make significant concessions to the Palestinians, which could include a settlement freeze, the release of additional prisoners beyond the current group in dispute and an agreement to continue peace negotiations beyond the end of April deadline.
Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst arrested and charged with spying for Israel, was convicted in 1987 and is currently serving out a life sentence in the United States. His imprisonment has been a source of tension between the U.S. and Israel.
But with peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians faltering, his release is being considered as a possible incentive for Israeli concessions.
Israel has in the past tried to link Pollard's release to peace negotiations. Current and former U.S. officials and experts have suggested the United States government might tie his release to a comprehensive peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Pollard is up for parole consideration in November 2015, and the United States is running out of time to use his possible release as leverage with Israel.
At the White House briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jay Carney said it is a "complicated issue" and declined to "get into details" about the negotiations. "And with regards to Mr. Pollard, he is a person who was convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence, and I don't have any update on his situation," Carney said.
But the fact the United States is willing to discuss his release before even a framework agreement has been reached between the parties shows the extraordinary efforts Washington is making to salvage the troubled negotiations.
When asked about whether Pollard was a topic in Kerry's talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "Jonathan Pollard was convicted of espionage and is serving his sentence. I do not have any update for you on his status."
Kerry met Monday with Netanyahu and was expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday.
The negotiations, which began in July, have hit a snag over whether Israel will agree to release more than two dozen prisoners, including 14 Arab Israelis who Israel considers terrorists. They were scheduled to be freed on March 29 and now Palestinian negotiators are threatening to end the negotiations over the delay.
Israel has already released three groups of prisoners, most of whom have served lengthy prison terms for attacks on Israelis, but this final release is especially contentious because it includes convicted murders. Netanyahu has said he would seek approval for any further releases with his cabinet, which has been critical of the previous releases.
Netanyahu has also said he would not release any more prisoners if President Abbas did not agree to continue negotiations and to stop threatening to seek recognition for Palestinians before international bodies.
Some Russian and Ukrainian officials and other people may be blacklisted by the United States as the crisis in the Ukrainian region of Crimea drags on.
President Barack Obama on Thursday signed an executive order laying the groundwork for sanctions against people and entities responsible for the crisis.
The executive order provides the legal basis for sanctions against specific people and entities, though the U.S. would do so "based on the situation on the ground" in Ukraine, a senior administration official told CNN.
The sanctions could include visa bans and the freezing of assets under U.S. jurisdiction.
The blacklist would include those who "undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine," the executive order states.
The document also says it is aimed at those who threaten peace in Ukraine or its territorial integrity, misuse funds or threaten the security or foreign policy of the United States.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a prepared statement that the move was a response to "Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity - actions that constitute a threat to peace and security and a breach of international law."
No people or entities have been identified yet for sanctions.
The sanctions would include freezing assets, blocking property under U.S. jurisdiction and preventing U.S. businesses from doing business with any person or entity listed.
The arrest and detention of an Indian consular official in New York on visa fraud charges has created a diplomatic uproar, with punitive steps taken against State Department officials in New Delhi.
Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul general, was arrested on December 12 after she dropped her daughter off at school, CNN's Pamela Brown reports.
She was not handcuffed until she arrived at the courthouse, a law enforcement source familiar with the case told CNN, calling that "a courtesy not afforded to most people," including alleged white-collar criminals.
Court papers allege that Khobragade had submitted false documents to obtain a work visa for her female housekeeper, paying her less than the amount stated.
Khobragade, 39, was held in a cell with other females and strip-searched in New York following her arrest, the U.S. Marshals Service said, noting such treatment was standard procedure in her case and that no policies were violated. She eventually posted bond and was released.
She has been moved to India's Permanent Mission to the United Nations, an Indian external affairs ministry official said.
The case has set off outrage in India about Khobragade's treatment by U.S. law enforcement officials. But it has also drawn concern from human rights advocates about her allegedly underpaying her housekeeper.
The Indian government has described the diplomat's treatment by the U.S. justice system as barbaric.
"We are shocked and appalled at the manner in which she has been humiliated by the U.S. authorities," Indian external affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said last week. He called the treatment of Khobragade "absolutely unacceptable."
New York police were not involved. The U.S. Marshals Service handled her detention.