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Merkel Calls For Caucasus Summit Ahead of Baltic Tour

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a summit of Georgia's neighbors following the country's recent conflict with Russia. On Monday, she heads to the Baltics to lobby for a more nuanced approach towards Moscow.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media at a joint news conference with Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili after their meeting in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008.

Merkel has already visited Tbilisi and Sochi during and now hopes to extend her influence

Russia itself was not on the list of countries envisaged by Merkel -- which included Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- but no country should be excluded from participation, the spokesman said.

"It's up to the French presidency of the EU to decide if this conference will take place, as well as when and who will be invited," spokesman Thomas Steg said.

According to the latest edition of German weekly Der Spiegel, which will be published on Monday, Merkel proposed the summit idea to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency. Berlin reckons the theme of the summit should be "reconstruction and stability in Georgia and the region," the German government spokesman said.

The German leader has been firm in demanding Russia withdraw its troops from Georgia proper and made it clear that she takes a dim view of Moscow's recent actions.

Merkel visited Tbilisi where she made it clear after talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that Georgia "will become a member of NATO" -- a bone of contention with Moscow which is deeply uneasy about the military alliance's expansion.

But Merkel also made a point of visiting Russia for talks with President Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi on the Black Sea and saying that the lines of communication must remain open.

Her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has also warned against any "knee-jerk" reaction in the West's relations with Moscow, such as suspending talks on a partnership and cooperation agreement with the EU.

Reinforcing Germany's stance, Berlin urged Russia to withdraw its troops completely from Georgia on Saturday, saying that while the withdrawal had begun the information available indicated it was not complete.

Steg said the German government's assessment concurred with that of Saakashvili. He added that Chancellor Angela Merkel had spoken by telephone to Saakashvili on Saturday.

"The German government expects that Russia complete the withdrawal without delay in line with the Six Point Plan signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and pulls back its troops to the lines before the outbreak of hostilities," Steg said.

In particular, road and rail transport routes between western and eastern Georgia had to be cleared and full freedom of movement re- established, he added, saying Russian troops should leave the zone to the south of South Ossetia.

Merkel heading to Baltics

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, during a joint press conference in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Friday, Aug. 15, 2008.

Merkel wants to hear what the Baltics think of Medvedev

In another whirlwind diplomatic tour Merkel heads to the Baltic states on Monday, hoping to mend damaging differences in Europe's response to the Georgia crisis and over future relations with Moscow.

The Baltics, under Soviet control in the Cold War and now European Union and NATO members, have joined fellow ex-communist states Poland and Ukraine -- and the United States and Britain -- in sharply criticizing Russia during the recent conflict with Georgia.

Days after Russian talks rolled into Georgia on Aug. 8, the leaders of the three Baltic states plus Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko all traveled to Tbilisi to express their solidarity with President Saakashvili.

The five leaders appeared together on stage at an anti-Moscow rally in Tbilisi on Aug. 12, joining hands and holding them aloft to cheers from a crowd of tens of thousands of people.

They even slammed a ceasefire agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi brokered by President Sarkozy, saying it failed to protect their ally Georgia.

Germany walking a diplomatic tightrope

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel has pledged German support to Sarkozy's plan

Berlin by contrast, which over recent years has enjoyed perhaps the warmest relations with Moscow of any of the EU's 27 members, has fully supported Sarkozy's efforts and has tried to have a more nuanced approach.

Berlin wants cooperation with Moscow to "based on common concepts of values and goals ... The application of military force and marching into a sovereign country of course are not part of these common values," Steg said last week.

The differences in approach have led to talk of a split between the countries of "old Europe" like Germany and France and those of "new Europe" like Poland and the Baltics over how to deal with Moscow.

"Merkel must try to calm down some the rhetoric because to my understanding the current policy of some new (EU) members like Poland and the Baltics is counter-productive, not only in respect to Georgia but also in respect to Russia," said Otfried Nassauer from the Berlin Center for Transatlantic Security.

"The new members have pushed NATO to take a relatively strong position, but this is not really backed up very well by real policy options," Nassauer told the AFP news agency. "To threaten Russia with an interruption of NATO-Russia Council discussions is not a real threat."

But Merkel must be careful as she is walking a tightrope, said Alexander Rahr, a Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin.

"I think she is trying to please everyone," Rahr told AFP. "But this could of course backfire, this kind of policy, because it is not quite clear where Germany really stands."

After first visiting Stockholm for talks with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Monday, Merkel will travel to Tallinn the next day where she will meet with Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and President Toomas Hendrik Ives.

Later on Tuesday Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany where Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin worked for the KGB, travels to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius for talks with Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas and with President Valdas Adamkus.

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