Cameron: culprits who shot down MH17 must be held to account
Prime minister speaks after chairing Cobra meeting on Malaysia Airlines jet brought down over Ukraine on Thursday.
David Cameron has said that those responsible for the “absolutely shocking” shooting down of the Malysia Airlines jet over Ukraine “must be held to account”.
Speaking after a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee, the prime minister insisted it was too early to know for certain exactly who was to blame for the attack that has killed almost 300 passengers.
But he went on: “It is an absolutely shocking incident. It cannot be allowed to stand.
“If, as seems possible, this was brought down, then those responsible must be held to account and we must lose no time in doing that.”
Britain is now pressing for an independent international investigation into the crash and is hoping to get the unanimous support of the United Nations security council for this when it meets later on Friday. Cameron is also due to stress the importance of establishing the facts in telephone conversations with other international leaders, including Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, scheduled to take place soon.
In a brief television interview after the Cobra meeting, Cameron said: “We’ve got to get to the bottom of what happened, and how this happened.
“We have some information but we need to find more information.”
Asked whether the initial Russian response appeared less than encouraging, he urged both Moscow and Kiev to do everything possible to help.
“What is absolutely necessary is for all governments to co-operate in every way they can to get to the bottom of what happened, to make sure that this site can be properly investigated, to make sure that the bodies of loved ones can be properly recovered.
“All governments, the Russian government, the Ukrainian government, all of them must do everything they can so that we can get to the bottom of what happened in this absolutely dreadful loss of life.”
At the Cobra meeting Cameron said expert British air accident investigators should be available to go to Kiev if needed as part of an international investigations. In response to a request from the Dutch authorities, a small number of British police officers are being despatched to help their Dutch counterparts with the recovery and repatriation of bodies.
Cameron was joined at the hour-long Cobra meeting by senior ministerial colleagues including Philip Hammond, the new foreign secretary, Michael Fallon, the new defence secretary, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, George Osborne, the chancellor, Theresa May, the home secretary, and Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary. They were briefed by intelligence chiefs about what is known about the cause of the crash.
Although there is evidence pointing to pro-Russian separatists backed by Moscow being responsible, Cameron refused to ascribe blame in his post-Cobra interview and the government is stressing the need for proper independent investigation, possibly overseen by a body like the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to establish the facts.
In a subsequent briefing a spokeswoman for the prime minister said that Cameron wanted this to take place “as swiftly as possible”.
On Friday morning Cameron spoke to his Dutch and Australian counterparts, Mark Rutte and Tony Abbott. He subsequently spoke to Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime minister and Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister. Following his call with Rutte, Cameron posted a message on Twitter saying: “I told him we grieve with him and the Dutch people.”
Furthers calls with Obama and Putin are expected.
Although Cameron has been at the forefront amongst EU leaders in pushing for tougher sanctions against Russia because of its continuing support for the separatist rebels in east Ukraine, his spokeswoman played down the prospect of any imminent escalation of measures against Moscow.
“The first thing we have got to do is establish the facts,” she said. “First, was the plane brought down by military action? Then, we need to establish who was responsible.”
Although the Americans have said flight MH17 was definitely shot down, Downing Street is still going no further than saying this “looks likely”.
Downing Street has also refused to confirm how many Britons were killed in the crash. Malaysia Airlines has put the British death toll at nine, but the prime minister’s spokeswoman said there was still uncertainty about the nationality of some of the victims.
Asked if Cameron agreed with Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state, about the need for the EU to adopt a tougher stance with Russia, the spokeswoman said: “The prime minister’s view is that we have got to first establish the facts of what happened and who was responsible. On the issue of the crisis in Ukraine, the prime minister has been very clear that we need to keep the pressure on Russia to engage with the international community to find a peaceful solution.”