Obama leaves open the option of arming Ukraine if diplomacy and sanctions fail

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with President Obama to discuss how to defuse fighting on the Ukrainian border. While Merkel has warned that adding more weapons to the equation would simply escalate the war, Obama said arming Ukrainian forces will remain on the table for the U.S. since Russia is arming the rebels. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to the White House today to rally support for her plan to stop the fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The visit came amid signs of a U.S.-European rift over arming Ukraine's military against pro-Russian rebels. Today, publicly, the two leaders maintained a display of unity.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    As diplomatic efforts continue this week, we are in absolute agreement that the 21st century cannot stand idle and simply allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.

  • CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter):

    No matter what we decide, the alliance between the United States and Europe will continue to stand, will continue to be solid.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Still, Mr. Obama said it's clear Russia is arming the rebels, despite Kremlin denials, so U.S. options must remain open if diplomacy and sanctions fail to move President Vladimir Putin.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    The possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that's being examined, but I have not made a decision about that yet. It's not based on the idea that Ukraine could defeat a Russian army that was determined. It is rather to see whether or not there are additional things we can do to help Ukraine bolster its defenses in the face of separatist aggression.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Chancellor Merkel warned at a weekend European security conference in Munich that adding more guns to the equation could dramatically escalate the war without causing Putin to change course.

    Today, she put it in other terms:

  • ANGELA MERKEL (through interpreter):

    I have always said I don't see a military solution to this conflict, but we have to put all our efforts in bringing out a diplomatic solution.

    So if, at a certain point in time, one has to say that a success is not possible, then the United States and Europe have to sit together and try and explore further possibilities of what one can do.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Last week, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande met with Ukraine's leaders and Russian President Putin to try to end the fighting. They have scheduled another in Minsk on Wednesday.

    With an eye on those talks, European Union foreign ministers delayed imposing new sanctions today on Russian officials.

  • FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER, Foreign Minister, Germany (through interpreter):

    We hope that the outstanding issues can be resolved to a point that a Minsk meeting would hold some promise and can produce the first steps towards defusing the situation and a cease-fire.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The Ukraine crisis dominated the Munich conference.

    Republican Senator John McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, argued that arming Ukrainian troops will aid diplomacy.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) Arizona: If we help Ukrainians increase the military cost to the Russian forces that have invaded their country, how long can Putin sustain a war that he tells his people is not happening? That's why we must provide defensive arms to Ukraine.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    In Eastern Ukraine today, fighting raged again, as the two sides fired rocket barrages at each other. The United Nations estimates more than 5,300 people have been killed since April. And more than a million others have fled their homes.

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