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Steinmeier to head to Russia next week

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Steinmeier to head to Russia next week
Putin offering advice to the new president? Photo: DPA
16:26 CEST+02:00
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will travel to Russia next week for talks with the new government on crises including the Middle East conflict and the Iranian nuclear programme, a ministry spokesman said on Friday.

Steinmeier will stop in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg at the foot of the Urals during the May 12 to 16 visit, spokesman Martin Jaeger told reporters at a regular government news conference.

He did not specify whom Steinmeier would meet. But the visit comes on the heels of new President Dmitry Medvedev's inauguration and his predecessor Vladimir Putin's confirmation as prime minister.

It will also coincide with a meeting of Steinmeier's Slovenian, Swedish, Polish and Lithuanian counterparts in Georgia in a bid to cool tensions over the separatist region of Abkhazia.

Beyond the situation in the Caucasus, Jaeger said Steinmeier would focus on the pivotal role Russia can play in conflicts such as the Israel-Palestinian dispute and tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Medvedev is to visit Germany in June.

Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, and Germany's conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel have clashed repeatedly over their approach to Russia.

The foreign minister has maintained former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's line that Russia must be courted as an indispensable partner in resolving global conflicts and ensuring energy supplies to western Europe.

Merkel, who was raised in Germany's former communist east, has taken a far more critical tack and held high-profile meetings with Russian critics of alleged civil and human rights abuses under Putin's government.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement from Moscow on Friday that Steinmeier should "press Russia to immediately end impunity for human rights violations in Chechnya and cease harassment of and restrictions on civil society."

"We sometimes hear that Germany can't 'tell Russia what to do' because of historical sensitivities," Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"But Germany is a serious partner and friend to Russia. It is very well-placed to encourage Russia to honour its international human rights obligations."

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