WASHINGTON, Feb 10 : US President Barack Obama on Monday agreed to hold off a controversial decision on sending arms to Ukraine until German-led efforts to broker a ceasefire with Russia are given a chance.
Hosting Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House, Obama said he hoped she could reach a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end 10 months of bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, but warned more punitive measures are in the pipeline if that fails.
Steep Western sanctions and low oil prices have crippled Russia's economy but have so far failed to dissuade Putin's government from backing Ukrainian separatists. Moscow denies it is doing so.
"My hope is that through these diplomatic efforts those costs have become high enough that Putin's preferred option is for a diplomatic resolution," Obama said.
"I won't prejudge whether or not they'll be successful," he added. "If they are not, then we will want to raise the costs. And we will not relent in that."
Obama indicated that further sanctions and "lethal defence" assistance are now on the table, but said no decision had been made yet.
Merkel has opposed sending arms, warning it would further escalate a war that Ukraine cannot win against the much larger and better equipped pro-Russian forces.
But she acknowledged that a drive to reach a ceasefire deal with Putin -- after he reneged on a previous agreement -- may not succeed. ?AFP