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Merkel, Obama unified on Ukraine

February 9, 2015

German Chancellor Merkel and US President Obama have emphasized they both support pursuing all paths of diplomacy in the Ukraine crisis. But while Merkel doesn't want to send arms to Kyiv, Obama remains undecided.

Merkel bei Obama 09.02.2015
Image: S. Loeb/AFP/K. Lamarque

On her latest leg of a crisis diplomacy tour, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Washington on Monday to hold talks with US President Barack Obama, where the two leaders discussed a number of security issues. The conflict in Ukraine dominated their talks and a press conference that took place shortly after Chancellor Merkel's arrival.

Merkel and her cabinet, along with other EU leaders have repeatedly emphasized that they do not want a war on European soil and, therefore, will pursue peaceful negotiations for as long as possible.

She defended this view in Washington on Monday by pointing to the effectiveness of sanctions in hurting the Russian economy .

"In my view, it's right that we've continued to raise the costs [of Russia's actions]," Merkel said. "I stand by this path 100 percent."

Earlier in the day, EU finance ministers in Brussels agreed on a new round of sanctions that will be levied on Russia after the next round of talks in Minsk. Negotiations are to continue in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday, where both sides hope to implement a September agreement signed there but never brought into full force. Representatives from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are to attend the latest round of talks.

According to a survey conducted in Germany last week, 70 percent of those surveyed were afraid of an escalation in the conflict between Russia and the west. Sixty-five percent reportedly supported the current sanctions against Russia, while nearly 50 percent also expressed understanding for Russia's feeling "threatened."

Washington, Berlin stand united

Both the German and US leaders underscored that they would remain united in their stance on Ukraine, even if small disagreements emerged.

"There is no doubt that if diplomacy fails this week, there will be a strong, unified response between the US and Europe," Obama said.

While Germany has led the EU in its efforts toward restoring peace in Ukraine, President Obama's opinion on how to proceed against Russia is of interest to both EU and US lawmakers. Thus far, he has appeared cautious to arm Ukrainian government troops.

On Monday, he confirmed that no decision had been made and that his administration would wait on the outcome of Wednesday's four-nation talks in Minsk before considering other options.

'Germany's story gives us hope'

Obama also underlined the lessons which Germany, which is celebrating the 25th anniversary of reunification and the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, itself can offer to the current crisis, not only in Ukraine but across the globe.

"At a time when conflicts around the world seem intractable…Germany's story gives us hope [and reminds us that] we can end wars, countries can rebuild, adversaries can become allies, walls can come down," he said.

Merkel added to this sentiment, saying that it showed how important it was to "uphold one's (diplomatic) values and not to give up."

Negotiation outcome 'uncertain'

Merkel did note during her visit in Washington, however, that a positive outcome in Minsk this week "was everything but certain."

The comments followed just days after she and French President Francois Hollande visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Hollande later described the discussion as "substantial and constructive."

On Monday, President Putin resumed accusations against the West, telling Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram that "a number of EU member states" and the US had supported the "coup d'etat" last February in Kyiv, which paved the way to the current armed conflict.

Fighting in Ukraine is showing no sign of relenting with close to 20 deaths, including soldiers and civilians, reported on Monday. Kyiv and the West have repeatedly accused Moscow of supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied those allegations.

kms/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)