The foreign ministers of Germany and France called on Russia to further participate in establishing peace in Syria, at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in the former German capital of Bonn on Friday.
“We believe that Russia can play a constructive role,” France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault said, referring to upcoming peace talks in Geneva.
The Bonn summit was the first meeting of the so-called “like-minded” nations—made up of about a dozen Western and Arab countries as well as Turkey—since US president Donald Trump took office in January.
Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel said Russia’s support was crucial for progress to happen at peace talks.
“On its own the regime in Damascus won’t conduct any serious negotiations,” he said.
Ayrault reiterated France’s position that Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad could not form part of a future Syrian government, adding that Europe wouldn’t finance the rebuilding of the country if he is.
The two European ministers welcomed the involvement of their US counterpart in Syrian peace talks at the G20 meeting. Gabriel told reporters that US secretary of state Rex Tillerson “participated vigorously” in the discussion, which also included top envoys from Italy, Britain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, and the European Union. Russia did not take part.
Ayrault said the meeting was “particularly useful,” noting that “it is important and absolutely instrumental for us to have a close dialogue with the United States on the Syrian issue and on many other issues.”
US allies seemed assured that Washington backed a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
“All the participants want a political solution because a military solution alone won’t lead to peace in Syria,” Gabriel told reporters.
Both European leaders were cautiously optimistic that diplomats would make progress at next week’s Syria talks in Geneva.
Gabriel told reporters “the proper amount of realism should be brought along” to the talks. Ayrault said, “we should not underestimate the difficulty and the danger.”
Ayrault cautioned that “Russia must stop seeing members of the opposition as terrorists.”
The Geneva talks will continue on from meetings in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana this week and will discuss plans for a transitional government in Syria, a new constitution and elections.
Tillerson also met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the summit on Friday.
The pair discussed two-way ties between the two countries and issues of mutual concern, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
The talks were the highest level meeting between the two countries since president Donald Trump took office. Shortly after winning the election Trump appeared to step back from Washington’s near-50 year “One China” policy by accepting a call from Taiwan’s leader. But a conciliatory phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week restating the position cleared the way for Wang and Tillerson to meet.
US pacifies concerns about Russia
Tillerson signaled there would be no radical shift in the US policy on Russia despite Trump’s pledges to seek a softer line.
Speaking after his first sitdown with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, Tillerson said the US sought cooperation with Moscow only when doing so “will benefit the American people.”