German foreign minister urges Iran to help end Syria conflict


German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Iran on Saturday to cooperate in efforts to end the war in Syria, by using its influence on its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Steinmeier said he wished that Iran used its influence on al-Assad “to make sure that we take the first steps towards de-escalation in Syria.”

After meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Zarif, Steinmeier said that while it was no secret that Berlin and Tehran did not have congruent views on the Syrian conflict, he added that “we have a common interest in ensuring an end to the killings.”

The Syrian conflict, which started with peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011, has killed more than 250,000 people. More than half of the country’s pre-war population of 22.4 million has been internally displaced or fled abroad.

Steinmeier is scheduled to travel on Sunday to Saudi Arabia, which is Iran’s main opponent in the region, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to visit Turkey, which is among the staunchest supporters of the Syrian opposition.

Iran, along with Russia, is a key backer of the Syrian government, and Moscow has been accused of targeting its recent airstrikes to support the al-Assad regime, rather than defeat Islamic State terrorists.

Different Syrian rebel groups are backed by numerous regional players, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan. The United States has also aided some factions fighting in the civil war.

But without the participation of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in regional talks, the opportunities for progress in ending the Syrian conflict are slim.

On the first extended visit by a German foreign minister in 12 years, Steinmeier also urged Iran to quickly meet its obligations including allowing nuclear inspections under the July deal in which Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States agreed to the gradual lifting of economic sanctions.

He also met Iranian President Hassan Rowhani.

The 10-year agreement, which takes effect Sunday, allows Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear programme but requires the country to show that it is not seeking a weapon.

“Now it’s Iran’s turn to meet the requirements that were agreed in exchange for an agreement to lift sanctions,” Steinmeier said.

He acknowledged that “the majority of the work has yet to come,” adding that “we will know only in a few months whether the agreement was a success.”

After Saudi Arabia, Steinmeier is due to travel on Tuesday to Jordan.