• German minister sees role in Saudi-Iran clash as possibility
  • Comments in op-ed follow Kerry's overture on Russia sanctions

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the European Union should forge closer ties with Russia to help resolve the civil war in Syria and reduce tension in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The EU will have to step up its efforts to stabilize the conflict-heavy region, “whether we like it or not,” Schaeuble wrote in an op-ed published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on Monday. While any moves wouldn’t be possible without the U.S., Russia is also a crucial ally in resolving crises, according to Schaeuble. 

“In any event, we’re neighbors,” Schaeuble wrote. “Relations between Turkey as a NATO member and Russia are also essential.” 

The overture comes five weeks after the EU extended economic sanctions on Russia until July 31 for its support of separatists in Ukraine and its seizure of Crimea. A framework agreement to resolve the dispute, negotiated last February in Minsk, ran beyond its 2015 year-end deadline as separatists in Ukraine threaten to hold local elections unilaterally.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that sanctions against Russia could be lifted this year if the Kremlin complies with the Minsk accord. President Vladimir Putin’s government has accused Ukraine of stalling on its commitments. 

Schaeuble cited a threat to Russia by Sunni Muslim extremists as it intervenes in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Shia-dominated Iran.

“If I correctly understand Russia’s security interests with respect to Islamist terrorism, it rather has a problem with ambitions grounded in Sunni Islam,” Schaeuble wrote in the op-ed. “Why should we not be able to develop a joint strategy with Russia to defuse tensions between a Saudi-led Sunni coalition and an Iran-led Shia coalition?”

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