Russian President Vladimir Putin was welcomed with a military honor guard as he arrived in Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two leaders' talks were expected to focus on Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as part of his first trip to Western Europe since being elected for a third term in office.
A military guard of honor greeted the former prime minister as he arrived at the chancellery. Putin kissed Merkel on both cheeks as he stepped out of his car.
Ahead of Putin's visit, the Kremlin was coming under growing pressure from the West to change its position on the conflict in Syria.
Pressure to act on Syria
Just hours ahead of Putin's arrival in Berlin, Germany's foreign minister called on Russia to get tough on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow "needs to recognize that in trying to end the violence in Syria, we are not working against Russia's strategic interests," Guido Westerwelle said in an interview published in the Friday edition of the daily paper Die Welt.
At the same time, though, Westerwelle warned against premature discussion of military action.
"In this difficult situation one must not create the impression that military intervention is a silver bullet," Westerwelle said.
Earlier in the week, Chancellor Merkel indicated that she would use her meeting with Putin to push for a harder line. The chancellor will try to convince Russia "to ensure, like us, that the right decisions regarding the Assad regime are made at the UN," Merkel's spokesman told reporters in Berlin.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a different warning, saying Russia's ongoing support of its Soviet-era ally was increasing the chance of an all-out war in Syria.
The Russians "are telling me they don't want to see a civil war," Clinton told reporters during a visit to Denmark. "I have been telling them their policy is going (to) help contribute to a civil war."
Later in the day, Putin is to fly on to Paris for talks with another newly elected president, albeit only for the first time, Francois Hollande. On Thursday President Hollande indicated that he too would push Putin for stronger action on Syria.
"He, along with China, has been the most reluctant on the question of sanctions," Hollande told reporters on Thursday. "And we must convince them that it is not possible to allow the Assad regime to massacre its own people."
Putin arrived in Berlin about an hour behind schedule. An official told Germany's DPA news agency that while his appointments would all have to be pushed back, none of them would be cancelled. No reason for the delay was given.
The urgency of diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria increased significantly following the massacre in which more than 100 people, half of them children, died at Houla. An investigation by United Nations monitors found that Syrian government troops or militiamen loyal to Assad were most likely responsible for the killings. The Syrian government, which launched an investigation of its own, has blamed rebel fighters.
pfd/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)