BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s role in the Syrian peace process must be to secure the channels of communication with Russia that are necessary to achieve a political solution to the country’s seven-year-old civil war, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday.
Maas’s remarks came as Western foreign ministers braced for another round of diplomacy on the conflict at a Toronto summit this weekend, from which Russia, the strongest international backer of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, will be absent.
Germany backed missile strikes by the United States, Britain and France against Syrian targets over the suspected use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces, but also wants to avoid further isolating Russia, despite a sharp cooling in relations.
“The aim we are pursuing in the foreign ministry is to keep Germany an appreciable part of the peace initiative,” Maas told a joint news conference with visiting Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“The aim ... is that in our role we can be the ones who can prop open the window for dialogue with Russia,” he added.
Since taking office earlier this year, Maas, a Social Democrat, has spearheaded a harsher line towards Moscow, one which has divided his party, which sees itself as the heir to Germany’s pioneering “Ostpolitik” policy of opening up to the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
“We have to use this moment to get the political process going again,” he added. “We also need Russia for this dialogue.”
Reporting by Sabine Siebold, writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Paul Carrel and Gareth Jones