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Germany plays down talks of an imminent summit on Ukraine

Merkel, Hollande and Putin have held a phone conference on the prospect of resuming Ukraine peace talks. Germany has said more work is needed to establish the prerequisites for such a summit.

Germany played down prospects for an imminent summit with France and Russia on the conflict in Ukraine, after the countries' leaders talked for nearly an hour on the telephone on Wednesday.

The French presidency had said that they expected a multilateral summit to be held "very soon," after the leaders discussed the conditions for renewed peace talks. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that "more work is still necessary to establish the prerequisites" of such a summit.

"The participants agreed that progress on both security issues and political issues would be necessary," Seibert said.

Moscow had initially indicated on Tuesday that such a meeting could take place in Berlin on October 19. Germany appears to have distanced itself from this suggestion and reports suggest that no date was agreed during the discussion. 

Still, all parties agreed that a meeting on Ukraine would need to be "constructive and useful" to ensure a cease-fire agreement and free elections, according to the French President Francois Hollande's office.

Minsk Friedensgespräche Ukraine Putin Merkel Hollande Poroschenko (picture-alliance/dpa/RIA Novosti/V. Tolochko)

Germany, France and Ukraine signed the Minsk II peace agreement in February 2015

However, a quick solution to the conflict between the government and Russian-backed separatist rebels remains remote. Since erupting in mid-2014, fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 9,600 people. The Ukraine government and the West have accused Moscow of supporting rebel forces, although it denies any involvement.

A peace deal brokered by Germany and France in February 2015, known as the Minsk II agreement, had reduced the fighting but has so far failed to stop it.

Hollande and Merkel are also scheduled to hold talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday, while diplomats from all sides will meet in Minsk on Thursday and Friday, according to the French presidency.

Diplomatic channels remain open

Wednesday's three-way discussion showed that diplomatic communication channels between Europe and Russia remain open in light of heightened tensions over the conflict in Syria.

Hollande reportedly took advantage of Wednesday's conversation to "reiterate his position on the urgency of a ceasefire and access to humanitarian aid in Syria," a source told the French news agency AFP; a position that was "clearly supported by the chancellor."

In a turbulent week, Russia has vetoed a French UN resolution on Syria, while France accused Russia of war crimes over its role in the bombardment of the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled a state visit to Paris.

Tensions also appeared to ease on Wednesday after the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that renewed bilateral talks on Syria with the United States would take place on Saturday in Lausanne. It will be the first since Washington pulled the plug on bilateral ceasefire negotiations on October 3 after Russia intensified its air strikes in Syria. Talks are also expected to be held in London at the weekend. 

dm/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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