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Steinmeier on a Mission

DW staff (nda)November 30, 2006

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke about his hopes for a lasting peace in the Middle East after meeting with G8 and Gulf state officials in Jordan Friday and urged Syria to join negotiations.

Mulling the road ahead in the Middle East: Steinmeier in Jordan on FridayImage: picture-alliance/dpa

On the first day of his sixth visit to the Middle East since becoming Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed his hopes for a return to peace talks in the embattled region after meeting with foreign ministers from the G8 powers and the six Gulf states, plus Jordan and Egypt, at a Jordanian Dead Sea resort.

With a tentative ceasefire currently holding firm between Israel and the Palestinians, Steinmeier praised the efforts of both sides to remain committed despite recent isolated incidents which could have plunged the conflict into a new, deadly phase.

With a ceasefire holding on the Lebanese border as well, Steinmeier was hopeful that new discussions and approaches to the problems would help cement the fragile peace but also urged the quartet of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union to push for a working timetable for a lasting settlement.

Steinmeier revealed that he had already spoken with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and hoped for future discussions in the New Year.

"I am glad that we will be able to continue these discussions in Washington before Christmas," Steinmeier told reporters, adding that a meeting had been called on Dec. 10.

Hamas-Fatah settlement key to negotiations

Steinmeier auf Nahost-Reise Deutschlands Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Steinmeier wants a stable, united Palestinian AuthorityImage: AP

The German foreign minister also urged the Palestinian government to resolve its internal differences if it wanted to contribute to a lasting peace in the region. If the negotiations between Hamas and Fatah could restart and the power struggle be resolved then this would be a great asset to bring to the table in discussions with Israel, Steinmeier added.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said on Thursday that talks between the warring factions had reached an impasse. Steinmeier was due to meet with Abbas later on Friday.

Steinmeier also reiterated the need for Syria to be involved in any Middle East peace discussions, noting that while Damascus seemed reticent on the subject, it was obvious to all involved that stability in the region depended in no small part to Syria's involvement.

"All the partners in these discussions must work to end this conflict," Steinmeier said. "And I believe that we need Syria if we are going to create a lasting solution."

Steinmeier ready to talk with Syria

Steinmeier plans to visit the Syrian capital on Monday but has no official appointment at this time. His last planned trip to Damascus was postponed in August due to what he called inflammatory statements from Syria's president about Israel.

Bashar Assad
Steinmeier may pay Assad a visitImage: AP

President Bashar al-Assad described Israel as an enemy, said it was an honor for Syria to support Hezbollah in its struggle against Israel and described resistance against the Jewish state as legitimate.

Martin Jäger, the foreign ministry's spokesman, echoed Steinmeier's message to Syria in a statement to reporters.

"Our goal remains to convince Syria to play a constructive role in the Middle East, both in terms of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and in particular Lebanon," he said. "I would like to stress in this context that Syria must know that our support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon is a key component of our Middle East policy."

Germany reiterates support for Lebanese government

Frank-Walter Steinmeier im Nahen Osten
The German FM will meet with the Lebanese PMImage: AP

While in Jordan, Steinmeier also took the opportunity himself to reiterate Germany's support for the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora at a time when pro-Syrian forces and Hezbollah activists are allegedly stirring up unrest in a bid to destabilize the current administration.

Steinmeier will meet Siniora and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri on Saturday and will also pay a visit to German troops leading the naval component of the UN force in Lebanon.

On Monday, he will go to Israel and meet his counterpart Tzipi Livni and possibly Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.