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U.S. and Russia Agree on Pact to Defuse Ukraine Crisis

Leaders of a high-level diplomatic effort reached an agreement on Thursday over ways to start de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine.

The agreement, which grants amnesty to members of armed groups who agree to leave the public buildings they have been occupying, was reached by Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union after more than five hours of talks here.

"The Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens," the officials said in a joint statement.

"All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions," the joint statement said. "The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-semitism."

Whether the agreement would de-escalate the crisis, and how quickly, remained unclear. It was reached the same day that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia used aggressive new language in asserting Russia's historical claims to eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia insurgents have taken control in several cities, rejecting the authority of the Ukrainian government in Kiev.

"All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated," the agreement stated.

The negotiators reached the agreement in talks held at the same luxury hotel where five years ago Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was then serving as the secretary of state, presented the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, with a red "reset" button that was intended to signal a fresh start in the White House's relations with the Kremlin.

As the talks began, all sides had an incentive to avoid a diplomatic confrontation.

Russia wanted to avoid the perception that it was being uncooperative in the search for a diplomatic solution and, thus, discourage Western nations from imposing new economic sanctions.

American officials have also sought to give Ukraine time to hold its May 25 presidential election without more extensive Russian interference.

European nations, for their part, would prefer not to impose wide-ranging sanctions.

[Source: By Michael R. Gordon, The New York Times, Geneva, 17Apr14]

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