Obama meets Putin ally with Ukraine still in mind

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U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, right, as they pose for a group photo on the last day of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, right, as they pose for a group photo on the last day of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, right, pose for a group photo on the last day of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 25, 2014, with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, top left, Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer, top center, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, and Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay. (AP Photo/Robin van Lonkhuijsen, Pool)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, third from top right corner, watches as U.S. President Barack Obama, second left front row, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, gesturing, talk when posing for a family photo on the last day of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Robin van Lonkhuijsen, POOL)

U.S. President Barack Obama, front right, waves as he poses for a group photo with China’s President Xi Jinping, front left, on the last day of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Second row from left to right are United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto. Third row from left to right are European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif and Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer.(AP Photo/Robin van Lonkhuijsen, Pool)

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, China’s President Xi Jinping, left, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, center, walk away after they posed for a group photo, on the last day of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The thrust of his diplomatic efforts still focused on Ukraine, President Barack Obama met Tuesday with a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he continued his efforts to isolate Moscow over its incursion into Crimea.

In an addition to his public schedule, Obama sat down with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a long room at the U.S. embassy, with the two countries’ flags set up behind them. U.S. officials offered no details about the meeting’s agenda, but Nazarbayev is part of a Russia-centered economic bloc focused on Eurasia.

Obama also was plunging back into the original intent of his visit to The Hague — an international nuclear security summit represented by more than 50 nations.

As Obama and Nazarbayev wrapped up their meeting, the White House released a joint statement from Obama and Nazarbayev that did not address the Ukraine situation, but focused instead on bilateral cooperation on nuclear security and nonproliferation — the theme of concurrent summit serving as the official purpose for Obama’s visit to the Netherlands.

Kazakhstan is the second largest country by territory and economy to emerge from the former Soviet Union, but Kazakhstan’s energy resources and strong economy give it some independence from Moscow. Nazarbayev has maneuvered between Russia and the West during more than two decades in power.

Both Obama and Putin have already been in touch with Nazarbayev this month in the wake of the Crimean upheaval. Obama spoke by phone with the Kazakhstan leader on March 10. The White House said then that Obama urged Nazarbayev to play an active role in seeking a peaceful resolution over the disputed peninsula. Putin spoke to Nazarbayev on March 16, the day of the secession referendum in Crimea. The Kremlin at the time said both presidents said they were satisfied that the people of Crimea had the opportunity to express their will.

The United States was redoubling efforts to pressure Russia out of its aggressive pose as Obama’s four-country, weeklong trip entered its second day. But to the east, the Russian annexation of Crimea was beginning to take root and Moscow shrugged off Obama’s drive to leave Putin in the cold.

The showdown between Russia and the West has evoked old Cold War tensions and was sure to dominate questions for Obama on Tuesday when he holds a joint news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. It will be Obama’s first news conference since Russia made a move on Crimea.

The U.S. and some of its closest allies cut Russia out indefinitely from a major coalition of leading industrial nations and canceled a summer summit Russia was to host in its Olympic village of Sochi. Obama also sought to win backing from other foreign leaders in hopes of ostracizing or even shaming Putin into reversing his acquisition of Crimea and backing away from any designs he might have on other Eastern Europe territory.

In a strongly worded joint statement, the United States, France, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan denounced a referendum in Crimea to secede from Ukraine and Russia’s ensuing annexation. In so doing, the seven leaders also effectively excluded Russia from what had been a two-decade-old coalition known as the Group of Eight.

“This clear violation of international law is a serious challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations,” the declaration said.

Still, Monday’s international gestures in Amsterdam and in The Hague got only a dismissive reaction from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“The G-8 is an informal club,” he said. “It has no membership tickets, and it can’t purge anyone by definition.”

And in the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine ordered its troops to pull back from the disputed territory, a clear signal that at least for now the fledgling Ukrainian government in Kiev was ceding

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