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White House Aide Says Deal To End Ukraine Conflict Possible By Year's End

Several Casualties Reported After Heavy Shelling In Donetsk
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WATCH: At least three people were reportedly killed and more than a dozen wounded after heavy shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government troops exchanged artillery fire during the night of June 8. (RFE/RL's Current Time TV)

The White House is pushing for implementation of a deal to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine before President Barack Obama leaves office, national-security adviser Susan Rice has said.

While recent peace talks involving Russia and Ukraine have been unproductive, the former United Nations ambassador who now coordinates foreign policy at the White House said that she sees the potential for a resolution by the end of the year.

Obama is due to leave office on January 20.

Appearing at a Washington Post event on June 9, Rice said U.S. officials are intensifying their efforts with their French and German counterparts to convince the two nations to carry out their parts of the Minsk peace agreement they signed in February 2015.

The Minsk deal calls for a cease-fire in fighting between Russia-backed separatists and Kyiv government forces, along with a range of political, economic, and social steps to end the conflict, including holding local elections in the east.

"This is something that could get done between now and the end of the administration if the Russians in particular exhibit sufficient political will," Rice said.

"We are hopeful if the Russians want to resolve this -- and we have some reason to believe they might -- we have the time and the wherewithal and the tools to do so," Rice said.

National-security adviser Susan Rice
National-security adviser Susan Rice

Ukrainian and Western leaders say that Russia has not kept up its part of the deal and is continuing to fuel the conflict by providing troops and material to separatists in the east.

While she said much is in Russia's hands, Rice acknowledged that Kyiv may continue to have trouble keeping up its end of the deal as well, particularly the requirement to pass legislation paving the way for local elections in eastern Ukraine.

"There are no sure bets" that the Ukrainian parliament would be able to ratify electoral reforms, she said, and she acknowledged there may not be enough time.

Ukrainian leaders have said it may take years before elections are held in the east and have insisted on a complete halt to all fighting before Kyiv will arrange any votes.

In an effort to prod Russia into furthering the peace deal, the United States and European Union have stood firm thus far on keeping economic sanctions on Russia in place, insisting that they will not be lifted until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented.

The EU's sanctions expire next month. EU leaders have said they are likely to be extended, despite growing opposition to them in France, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, and other parts of the EU.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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