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Kerry heads for Kiev as US mulls providing arms

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State John Kerry left Wednesday on a key trip to highlight US support for Ukraine as Washington mulls funneling heavy weapons to Kiev to battle pro-Moscow rebels.

The top US diplomat was to meet with Ukrainian leaders including President Petro Poroshenko amid mounting international alarm at the conflict on Europe’s doorstep.

Four people were killed Wednesday when a hospital in a suburb of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, was shelled.

President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary said Wednesday he would likely support providing weapons to Ukraine to help the Kiev government.

Ashton Carter, expected to be confirmed soon by lawmakers as the next Pentagon chief, made the comment before the Senate Armed Services Committee amid signals the Obama administration is leaning towards providing arms to Ukraine.

“I’m very much inclined in that direction… because I think we need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves,” Carter said when asked by Senator John McCain if he supported delivering “defensive weapons” to Kiev.

“The nature of those arms I can’t say right now” as he had not conferred with US military commanders or Ukrainian leaders on the issue, Carter said.

But White House spokesman Josh Earnest slapped down Carter’s comments with a biting retort.

“I noticed that Dr. Carter mentioned in his hearing is that he’s a strong believer in the chain of command, and he certainly understands that the commander in chief is at the top of that chain of command, and that a decision like this will be made by the commander in chief,” Earnest told reporters.

And Kerry‘s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, also remained cautious, insisting there was still no change in US policy — which is currently to give only non-lethal support such as body armor.

“Obviously there are a range of views and opinions within the administrations,” Psaki told reporters. “That’s why we have internal discussions.”

Kerry is only due to be on the ground for a few hours on Thursday, before flying later in the day to Munich where he will take part in the annual security conference taking place over the weekend in the southern German city.

Apart from the crisis in Ukraine, global leaders will also discuss the battle to defeat the Islamic State group amid revulsion at the horrific murder of a captured Jordanian pilot.  (AFP)

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