WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John F. Kerry, appearing exhausted and frustrated on Sunday morning television after one of the most difficult weeks in his tenure, lashed out at Russians and their allies in Ukraine for compromising the investigation of the downed Malaysian Airlines jetliner.
“Drunken separatist soldiers are pulling bodies into trucks unceremoniously,” Kerry said on Fox News Sunday. “We need full access, and this is a moment of truth for Russia.”
Kerry said evidence is stacking up that Russia armed and trained separatists and that separatists bragged about shooting down the plane on social media, before removing those posts when they realized it was a passenger plane.
In response to reports that separatists had removed the plane’s flight data recorder along with bodies, Kerry used strong language and complained that American investigators were given little time on the crash site.
“What’s happening is really grotesque and it is contrary to everything that President Putin and Russia said they would do,” Kerry said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Kerry spoke about three simultaneous crises – the downed passenger plane over Ukraine, the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, and the expiration of the deadline for Iran to abandon its nuclear program. He was scheduled to appear on five Sunday morning talk shows. The strain was showing during his Fox appearance, as he frequently complained that he was being interrupted and that the Obama administration was not being given full credit for its efforts.
Fox News captured Kerry on video, between morning show appearances, appearing distraught and angry, apparently over a report of new Palestinian casualties that included women and children.
“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said to an unseen aide, a seemingly sarcastic reference to Israel’s promise that its operations would focus on Hamas military targets.
Then, he expressed new urgency to visit the region. “We’ve got to get over there,” he told the aide.
Asked by interviewer Chris Wallace about the exchange, Kerry defended Israel’s “right to defend itself against rockets.” But he conceded “it’s very, very difficult in these situations, obviously difficult.”
Kerry said the investigation of the Malaysian crash is not yet finished but he tried to put added pressure on Russia for arming and training the Ukraine separatists. He pointed to evidence that he said is existing, that Russia had sent recent convoys of tanks and artillery, and that trained separatists had previously shot down two transport planes.
“It basically, it’s pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia in the hands of separatists,” Kerry said on CNN State of the Union. “We know with confidence, with confidence, that the Ukrainians did not have such a system anywhere near the vicinity at that point in time, so it obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists, and that’s why President Obama and the international community are demanding a full-fledged investigation, which Russia said they would do.”
But Kerry defended the US response as sufficiently aggressive, saying new sanctions had been imposed the day before the airline was shot down. He said Europe, which has far greater trade ties with Russia, needs to play a greater role and that the US, while in discussions with allies, has put everything on the table except American troops.
Kerry also defended his decision to extend talks with Iran for an additional four months, despite the arrival Sunday of a six-month deadline set by the US.
“They’re reducing their enrichment” of uranium, Kerry said. “This is the first time in 10 years under this current deal that Iran’s nuclear program is rolling back.”