BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will join France to push for a new international effort to achieve a lasting ceasefire in Syria, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Saturday, criticizing Russia for repeatedly blocking U.N. Security Council action on the war.
Officials from Germany, France, Britain and the United States will meet in London on Sunday to discuss the next steps following coordinated Western air strikes against Syria early on Saturday, he said.
He said the initiative was also being discussed by the NATO council that met in Brussels on Saturday, and European Union foreign ministers would debate further concrete measures to address the crisis in Syria on Monday.
“We will work together with France for the creation of an international format of influential states that can provide new momentum for the political process,” said Maas, a member of the Social Democrats, junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-left coalition government.
Germany did not participate in the air strikes, but backed them as a “necessary and appropriate” action to warn Syria against further use of chemical weapons, Merkel said on Saturday.
Maas said Germany would use all diplomatic means to seek an end to the seven-year war, and the destruction of remaining chemical weapons stockpiles.
He echoed criticism of Russia made earlier by Merkel and Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, but said Berlin would leverage its bilateral ties with Moscow to ensure Russia adopted a “constructive” stance on the issue.
Germany, which relies on Russia for about a third of the gas it uses, has long walked a careful line with Moscow — at once pushing for continued sanctions for its annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, while also maintaining dialogue and trade relations.
“Whether we like it or not, without Russia, the political process will not succeed,” Maas said.
Maas has generally struck a tougher tone toward Moscow than his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel, following a poison attack in Britain on retired double agent Sergei Skripal and a cyber attack on German government networks — two incidents that intelligence officials say emanated from Russia.
Moscow denies any involvement in either case.
Maas said it was critical to first achieve a lasting, nationwide ceasefire in Syria, along with humanitarian access, but the next step would be to negotiate a lasting solution that addresses the legitimate interests of the Syrian people.
“The key milestones will be creation of a transition government, a constitutional reform and elections,” he said.
Editing by Toby Chopra and Helen Popper