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Kerry and Steinmeier talk US-German relations, Ukraine

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has travelled to Washington for talks with his US counterpart and the International Monetary Fund. Ukraine topped the agenda during a joint press conference.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Washington on Thursday,

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

and US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed a range of topics, from bilateral relations, and the situation in Kyiv, to trans-Atlantic trade. However, continued political and economic certainty in Ukraine, combined with an East-West tug-of-war over Kyiv's allegiance, have raised concerns of further violence in the eastern European country.

US Secretary of State Kerry praised his German counterpart's leadership in the peace deal which paved the way for the installment of an interim government in Ukraine, calling the responsibility of ensuring stability in Kyiv a "shared burden."

A dramatic shift in the political landscape over the last week has seen the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych - now wanted for "mass murder" - and

the installment of an interim cabinet

. The new government was proposed by a council comprised of protesters from the pro-EU movement that toppled Yanukovych. It is tasked with governing until May 25 elections, which will include

staving off bankruptcy

, maintaining the country's territorial integrity and quelling the threat of violence amid rising tension between pro- and anti-Russian groups in the southern Crimean peninsula.

Kerry and Steinmeier said they "welcomed" the new Ukrainian government and looked forward to working with it. Despite the positive developments, Steinmeier emphasized that the situation "continued to be a major challenge."

Kyiv's leaders must now "show that it is a government for all Ukrainians and that it now works together with international institutions, and with its neighbors, to stabilize the country financially."

"East and West should not argue now about Ukraine's future," Steinmeier added.

'Avoid provocations' in Ukraine

A Russian military drill in the country's vast western region also raised concerns after President Vladimir Putin announced the move this week.

US Secretary of State Kerry said on Thursday that his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, had reassured him

Moscow would respect Ukraine's territorial integrities

.

Kerry urged all parties to "step back and avoid any kind of provocations on Ukraine."

"Words are words. We have all learned that it's actions and the follow-on choices that make the greatest difference," Kerry said.

The mounting tensions with Russia have also taken shape as a potentially explosive separatist movement in the southern peninsula of Crimea, whose population favors ties with Moscow over Kyiv.

Pro-Russia supporters stormed government buildings in the Crimean capital on Thursday

. They later said that a referendum vote would take place on May 25 to determine the status of the peninsula, where the majority of the population favors ties with Russia.

The announcement came a day after violent clashes during counter rallies between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine supporters, the latter of which was represented mainly by ethnic Tatar citizens.

'Long-standing friendship'

While

Steinmeier's visit to the US

- his first since becoming foreign minister late last year - was aimed at discussing bilateral relations, the two foreign ministers gave few details on topics unrelated to Ukraine.

Kerry told reporters that he and Steinmeier had been discussing "how to deepen and broaden our existing partnership" and that the US appreciated the "serious and appropriate way in which Germany has engaged with us in that discussion." He added that cyber security continued to be an important topic for the US.

Relations between the two nations soured over the summer with revelations that the NSA had been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among other world leaders. The public uproar over the spying scandal threatened to undermine upcoming negotiations for an EU-US transatlantic trade agreement.

At the time, President Barack Obama said that he halted the espionage activities as soon as he had been made aware of them. However, an article published by the German newspaper "Bild am Sonntag" last week alleged that the NSA had instead begun spying on high-level German politicians. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere - one of Merkel's closest advisors - was allegedly one of the people under surveillance,

Following talks with Kerry, Steinmeier was scheduled to meet with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to discuss financial aid to Kyiv.

kms/lw (AFP, dpa)

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