German coalition split over foreign minister's contact with Syria

18th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

A split has opened between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier over Steinmeier's continuing contact with his Syrian counterpart, major German newspapers report.

Berlin (dpa) - Steinmeier met Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem in Berlin Thursday to demand that Syria play a "constructive role" in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and in the political crisis in Lebanon.

Merkel did not support her foreign minister and regarded his readiness to talk to the Syrians as "inappropriate, as long as Syria does not recognize Lebanon diplomatically," the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported.

The respected conservative daily added that it had information that the United States administration and the Lebanese government had complained to Merkel about what they saw as Steinmeier's overly cooperative attitude to Syria.

And it noted that Merkel had not met Moallem.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung quoted foreign policy experts from Merkel's conservative Christian CDU/CSU bloc critical of the meeting.

CDU/CSU foreign policy parliamentary spokesman Eckart von Klaeden said "rolling out the red carpet" could be misunderstood as approval in Damascus.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, CDU/CSU chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs commission, called on Steinmeier, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD), to "avoid the impression of solo initiatives."

While maintaining silence on Thursday's meeting, Merkel was strongly critical of Syria during a press briefing on Tuesday.

Moallem would be told "in all clarity" that Germany did not see its current role in Lebanon as constructive, the chancellor said.

The reports said the chancellor had not criticised her SPD foreign minister openly to maintain a cordial atmosphere in the federal coalition against the backdrop of two state elections on January 27, in which her CDU and the SPD are squaring up against each other.

After meeting Steinmeier, Moallem said Syria was ready to help in the search for Mideast peace and a resolution of the political impasse in Lebanon.

Syria was keen to see "security and stability" return to the region within the context of what he called "a just peace," referring in particular to Israel's continuing occupation of the Golan Heights.

Damascus was ready to resume diplomatic relations with Beirut, but only after "the current crisis is resolved, when a compromise president is elected and when a government of national unity is formed," he said.


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