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Diplomacy

Leaders aim for 'Normandy format' peace summit for Ukraine

The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are hoping to meet this week to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine. This follows a last-ditch German-French push to end the bloodshed.

Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement that the chancellor and presidents Francois Hollande, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko had agreed to aim for a Wednesday meeting in Minsk during a conference call on Sunday.

"In (the call) they worked further on a package of measures in the context of their efforts on a comprehensive settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine," the statement said.

"This work will be continued tomorrow in Berlin with the goal of holding a 'Normandy format' summit on Wednesday in Minsk," he added. The term "Normany format" refers to a meeting of the leaders of France, Germany, Russian and Ukraine on the sidelines of celebrations last June of the 70th anniversary of the allies' landing in Normandy during World War II.

Ukraine's President Poroshenko appeared upbeat following the telephone call, saying in a statement posted on his official website that said he hoped the Minsk summit would lead to a "swift and unconditional ceasefire" in eastern Ukraine.

Russia's President Putin, though, cautioned that the meeting may not even take place.

"We will be aiming for Wednesday, if by that time we manage to agree on a number of points which we've been intensely discussing lately," Putin said during a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.

Munich Security Conference

While there was no immediate comment from Chancellor Merkel beyond the announcement that the leaders were aiming to meet, in remarks to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, she said she was "uncertain" about the chances of success for a last-ditch peace initiative that she and President Hollande launched late last week.

Speaking at the Conference prior to the leaders' phone call on Sunday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier appeared pessimistic about the prospects for a quick resolution to the Ukraine crisis, saying this remained "off in the distance."

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was also in attendance, used his remarks to stress that Washington and its European allies were "united in our diplomacy" on Ukraine.

This appeared to be an attempt to play down a reported rift between Washington and European capitals, including Berlin, over the wisdom of supplying weapons to Ukrainian government forces.

For his part, Steinmeier echoed comments made at the conference by Merkel on Saturday, saying that delivering weapons would be "not just highly risky but counterproductive."

Wrapping up the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, its chairman, former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, described the 51st edition of the annual gathering as one of the most intensive and interesting conferences in recent years.

He noted that while delegates had been confronted with a great deal of bad news regarding conflicts in various parts of the world, at least the four leaders' plan to hold a summit in Minsk on Wednesday, provided a "glimmer of hope" for Ukraine.

pfd/rc (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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