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Merkel's Bavarian ally calls for quick end to Russian sanctions

BERLIN (Reuters) - The leader of Bavaria’s sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats called for ending sanctions imposed against Russia by Europe and the United States for its invasion of Crimea and its military actions in Ukraine.

Bavarian state premier and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer attends a CSU party meeting at 'Kloster Seeon' in Seeon, southern Germany, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

The sanctions should be lifted this year, Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (CDU), told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview to be published on Sunday.

“I’m arguing for realpolitik not sabre-rattling,” Seehofer told the newspaper. “We have to be clear about different positions, such as about the annexation of Crimea, while working to promote sensible business ties.”

Merkel and other EU leaders, by contrast, have insisted that the sanctions must remain tied to progress on the Minsk peace process aimed at ending the violence in eastern Ukraine.

That message was reiterated on Saturday by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault during a joint news conference in Paris.

Merkel spoke on Saturday with U.S. President Donald Trump, but their joint statement made no mention of the sanctions issue. Trump this week said he was only in the early stages of considering ending the U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke by telephone and agreed to try to rebuild U.S.-Russia ties and to cooperate in Syria, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

Seehofer said he also favored a broader rapprochement between Russia and the West, and agreed with calls to reopen the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries to include Russia.

Russia used to be part of the so-called Group of Eight (G8) meetings until it was suspended in 2014 after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula following a popular uprising in Kiev that toppled its pro-Moscow president.

“We have to get out of the bloc thinking of the 20th century,” Seehofer told the newspaper. “We must focus on finding joint answers to terrorism, migration, climate change.”

Seehofer also praised Trump for quickly implementing his campaign promises. He said he did not agree with all of Trump’s positions, but said the U.S. president had been elected in a free election and that should be respected.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mary Milliken