HRABOVE, Ukraine - Malaysia's prime minister quietly negotiated the release of MH17 victims' remains and the doomed jet's black box in a personal telephone conversation with a pro-Moscow rebel leader, NBC News has learned. Najib Razak brokered the deal with Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk" in eastern Ukraine, according to a senior Malaysian government source.
Malaysian officials informed the State Department that Najib had reached a deal using diplomatic back channels around the same time Monday that President Barack Obama delivered a televised statement at the White House suggesting that pro-Russian separatists' behavior "has no place in the community of nations." He also questioned why gun-toting militants had prevented investigators from accessing the crash site. "What exactly are they trying to hide?" Obama asked. It was not clear whether the president knew the direct talks had been successful at the time. In a statement released late Tuesday, Najib said: "In recent days, there were times I wanted to give greater voice to the anger and grief that the Malaysian people feel. And that I feel. But sometimes, we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome." The human remains of 282 of the 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 were due to be taken to the Netherlands for identification on Tuesday.
- Keir Simmons
First published July 22 2014, 4:43 AM