German official urges new diplomacy for Syria peace; Russia sanctions possible

BERLIN,  A top German official said Wednesday the best way to achieve peace in Syria is to re-establish diplomatic talks recently broken off between the United States and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) sits with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) at the Westin Vendome Hotel in Paris on May 10. On Wednesday, Steinmeier said he believes a new round of diplomacy is needed to continue pushing for a peace plan to end the civil war in Syria, now in its sixth year. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State | License Photo

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, said a new diplomatic initiative is needed to settle the civil war that’s been raging in Syria since 2011, particularly after the breakdown between Washington and Moscow this week.

“This cannot put us in the position of doing nothing,” he said Wednesday of the shuttered negotiations at a conference discussing Middle East policy in Belgium.

“We must look for ways to finally end this craziness, this killing, this dying.”

More than a half-million people have died during the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and opposition factions — a war that has been complicated by concurrent fighting with the Islamic State terror group.

U.S. and Russian negotiators agreed on a cease-fire early last month, which lasted only for a few days. An attack on a convoy carrying relief aid near Aleppo was a major detractor in the breakdown of the peace process.

Steinmeier’s remarks came as diplomats from the United States, the European Union and Britain met in Berlin to discuss the Syrian crisis.

Meanwhile, fighting continues across the nation — particularly in the north, where regime forces aided by the Russian military are engaged with U.S.-backed opposition troops in and around the city of Aleppo.

Steinmeier and the chief U.N. envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, also discussed the humanitarian scenario in the country on Wednesday, ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer noted. Relief aid is still badly needed in many parts of Syria but fighting has made it difficult to deliver it.

An issue of improvement of humanitarian situation in Syria will be the key issue of the negotiations, he said in a statement.

Germany is also considering new European sanctions against Russia as a means to ramp up pressure on Moscow to try and end the fighting.

By Doug G. Ware