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Merkel, Putin Complete 'Serious and Detailed' Talks After Three Hours, Kremlin Says


German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin chat as they pose for the media at Meseberg Castle on August 18.

A Kremlin spokesman says talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin ended after three hours, calling the conversation "very serious and detailed."

The remarks to journalists early on August 19 by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, reported by the Russian state-run TASS news agency, were the first comments after the meeting of the two leaders at Meseberg Castle outside of Berlin.

Officials have said the leaders will not hold a news conference following their talks.

Before the meeting on August 18, Merkel said she would discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as Iran and the Nord Stream 2 gas-pipeline project with Putin.

Addressing reporters outside Meseberg Castle before their talks, Merkel said she would also raise human rights issues and bilateral relations.

"I am of the opinion that controversial issues can only be addressed in dialogue and through dialogue," she said before leaving for talks with the Russian leader. The two leaders took no questions.

On the planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline to carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany, Merkel said "Ukraine must continue to play a role in the transit of gas to Europe once Nord Stream 2 is in place."

She welcomed the start of discussions between the European Union, Ukraine, and Russia on the issue.

Putin told reporters that such a move had to make sense for Moscow from a business perspective.

"I would like to stress that the main thing is that the Ukrainian transit -- which is traditional for us -- meets economic demands," he said. "Nord Stream 2 is exclusively an economic project."

The United States is against the pipeline and claims it will increase Germany's dependence on Russia for energy. Ukraine fears the pipeline will allow Russia to cut it off from the gas transit business. Germany's eastern European neighbors, nervous of Russian encroachment, have also raised concerns about the project.

But Merkel has maintained that the Nord Stream project is an economic, not political matter for Germany. She is also under pressure from German businesses to maintain ties with Russia on that and other important economic projects.

Putin also called on Europe to intensify humanitarian aid to Syria, where Moscow has backed President Bashar al-Assad's war against opposition rebels and militant groups.

The Russian leader also said he would discuss with Merkel the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, which he labelled an important agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump exited the deal in May.

Putin arrived in Berlin after attending the wedding of Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl on August 18.

Opposition politicians have accused Kneissl of undermining EU foreign policy by inviting Putin.

Merkel Dampens Expectations

Merkel warned on August 17 against expecting too much from her discussions with Putin.

"We want good relations with Russia," she told reporters in Berlin. "It's a work meeting from which no specific results are expected, but the number of problems we are preoccupied with -- from Ukraine and Syria to the issue of economic cooperation -- is so big that it is justified to be in a permanent dialogue."

"Russia has huge influence on all these issues, and if we want peaceful solutions, we have to try to achieve them through discussions over and over again," she said.

"There will be controversies, and there will be issues where together we will see where we can enhance and improve bilateral and international cooperation," she added.

The two leaders last met in Sochi in May and struggled to overcome differences.

Russia and the West remain locked in dispute over Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and the conflict between Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

On Syria, Germany wants Putin to finalize a lasting cease-fire there in agreement with the United States. Merkel said a four-way meeting on Syria involving Germany, Russia, Turkey, and France is possible.

While Merkel was cautious about the likelihood of making progress on longstanding disputes, others in her new governing coalition seemed more hopeful.

"We can be cautiously optimistic," Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Merkel's conservative bloc, told the Stuttgarter Zeitung and Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspapers in an interview published on August 18.

"The Russian president has maneuvered himself into a dead end on Syria and eastern Ukraine, and needs international partners. For that he has to move," he said.

Achim Post, a senior member of the Social Democrats, junior partners in the coalition government, said that he expects both Merkel and Putin to look for pragmatic solutions based on common interests.

"In a world that is increasingly uncertain, we must speak particularly with difficult partners like Russia," he said.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS

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