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Germany and France put on united front in the face of external crises

German Foreign Minister Gabriel and his French counterpart will cooperate closely on issues such as Russia, Ukraine and ties to the United States. The two have hit out at US President Donald Trump's refugee ban.

Germany's new foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, pledged on Saturday to work closely with France in forging stronger European solidarity amid increasing Russian threats in eastern Europe and a potential cooling in relations with the United States.

In his first foreign visit as Germany's top diplomat, Gabriel told reporters in Paris, "Europe has no reason to fear the future - we have no reason for subservience or restraint."

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault reaffirmed France and Germany's common desire for a stronger Europe, saying, "If Germany and France are moving in the same direction and are thinking in the same direction, then Europe is moving forward."

The two men also vowed to set up bilateral working groups to specialize on tackling key external issues, including Russia and the Ukraine crisis.

Gabriel reaffirms strong stand on Russia sanctions

Gabriel said Germany and France had agreed that any moves to lift sanctions on Russia must be tied with progress towards peace in eastern Ukraine.

"We in Germany and France have a clear position on the sanctions," Gabriel said. "We wish to implement the Minsk peace process ... That is the only way that sanctions can be lifted."

Despite French and German efforts at implementing the 2015 Minsk Agreement, little progress has been made in the peace process. New US President Donald Trump has indicated he may lift US sanctions placed on Russia.

Militärische Übungen der ukrainischen Armee in der Nähe von Kiew (picture alliance/dpa/R. Pilipey)

Despite attempts to forge peace in Ukraine, troops continue to fight against Moscow-backed rebels in the east of the country

Europe "worried" by Trump's refugee ban

Gabriel and Ayrault criticized Trump's decision to halt the US refugee program. The German foreign minister said yesterday's executive order to ban refugees from selected Muslim-majority countries contradicted America's Christian traditions of "love thy neighbor."

"This [restriction on refugees] can only worry us," Ayrault said. "Welcoming refugees who flee war and oppression is part of our duty."

The German and French foreign ministers also said they plan to hold a joint meeting with Trump's nominee for US secretary of sate, Rex Tillerson, once he has been officially appointed, "to discuss the issue point by point and have a clear relationship."

"Clarity, coherence and, if necessary, firmness are needed to defend our beliefs, our values, our vision of the world, our interests, French, German and European," Ayrault said.

In his new role as Germany's foreign minister, Gabriel is scheduled to travel to Brussels on Tuesday for talks with European Commission officials.

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dm/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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