January 4, 2020 / 8:50 PM / 3 months ago

German foreign minister will seek direct talks with Iran - newspaper

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will seek direct talks with Iran to try to de-escalate tensions after a U.S. air strike in Iraq killed Iran’s military commander Qassem Soleimani, a newspaper quoted him as saying on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas speaks during a congress of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Berlin, Germany, December 8, 2019. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

“In the coming days, we will do all we can to counteract a further escalation of the situation - in the United Nations, the EU and in dialogue with our partners in the region, including in talks with Iran,” Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Maas told the paper he was in close contact with his British and French counterparts, with the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s protege and would-be successor, said in a statement that it was up to Iran’s leaders to make sure that the conflict in the region did not escalate further.

Kramp-Karrenbauer noted that the United States had acted alone, but added that Soleimani was responsible for exporting terror and violence, resulting in many deaths.

“Iraq cannot be allowed to sink into chaos, and certainly not under the control of extremists. Therefore, it is important not to let up now in the fight against Islamic State,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

Despite the heightened tension in the region, Maas said he wanted to continue Germany’s deployment of around 120 troops in Iraq under the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve.

“The fight against ISIS is and remains in Germany’s interest, and the Bundeswehr is providing important training to this end on the ground,” Maas told the newspaper.

The United States and its allies have suspended training of Iraqi forces due to the increased threat they face after the U.S. air strike in Baghdad on Friday, the German military said in a letter seen by Reuters.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said any decision about restarting the training would be made in close coordination with Germany’s allies.

Maas said the situation in the region had become more volatile but there was no concrete threat to Germany in the main travel areas so far.

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Gareth Jones and Will Dunham

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