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Obama: Russia Sanctions Must Remain Until Moscow Complies With Minsk Deal

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel address a press conference after their bilateral talks at the Herrenhausen Palace in Hannover on April 24.

U.S. President Barack Obama says he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agree that Ukraine-related sanctions targeting Russia should only be lifted if Moscow complies with a deal to end fighting between Kyiv's forces and Russia-backed separatists.

"Sanctions on Russia can and should only be lifted once Russia fully complies with its commitments under the Minsk [peace] agreement," Obama told an April 24 news conference in Hannover after meeting with Merkel during the last leg of a six-day foreign trip to shore up U.S. alliances.

Merkel said that the cease-fire was not stable and that she and Obama had discussed implementation of the February 2015 peace deal brokered in Minsk to end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 9,100 since April 2014.

"Unfortunately, we do not have any stable cease-fire yet and we must make progress in the political process," Merkel said, adding that she and Obama "discussed very detailed steps to be taken next in this regard."

The Kremlin has repeatedly blamed Kyiv for failing to implement the Minsk agreement.

Obama also offered words of support to the new Ukrainian government under Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman, who earlier this month replaced the embattled Arseniy Yatsenyuk amid stalled reforms that have frustrated Kyiv's Western allies and creditors.

"We welcome the formation of a new government in Ukraine, which we encourage to continue the political, economic, and energy reforms that can deliver progress for the Ukrainian people," Obama said.

Obama arrived in Germany earlier in the day to push for a new EU-U.S. trade pact and take part in an April 25 summit with key EU leaders.

The White House says the summit with Merkel and the leaders of France, Britain, and Italy will also address counterterrorism efforts following attacks in Paris and Brussels, the fight against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, the European refugee crisis, and Libya.

Speaking at the news conference, Obama made a plea for the warring parties in Syria to return to peace talks and "reinstate" a cease-fire.

He said he was "deeply concerned" about a surge in violence in Syria, where government forces have escalating bombing of rebel-held areas around the strategic city of Aleppo.

"We remain deeply concerned about the upsurge in fighting in Syria over the last several days, and we continue to agree that the only real durable solution is a political solution that moves Syria towards an inclusive government that represents all Syrians," Obama said.

He spoke of a "tragic humanitarian crisis" in the war-torn country and said he continued to believe in a political solution to the fighting there, noting that he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week to try "to make sure that we could reinstate the cessation of hostilities."

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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