German and Russian foreign ministers trade verbal blows over Assad, chemical weapons

German and Russian foreign ministers trade verbal blows over Assad, chemical weapons

Germany's Sigmar Gabriel and Russia's Sergey Lavrov have exchanged strong words during a joint press conference in Krasnodar. Gabriel accused the Syrian regime, which Russia backs in the region, of war crimes.

Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel accused his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, of downplaying attacks carried out by Syrian government regime, including its alleged deployment of chemical weapons.

During a joint press conference in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, Lavrov was responding to threats from Washington directed at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this week when Gabriel condemned Moscow for backing the Assad regime.

Lavrov had told reporters that Russia would respond "with honor" to any prospective US attack on Syrian forces before Gabriel spoke out against Russia's role in the Syrian conflict and urged Moscow to pressure Assad over his regime's alleged use of chemical weapons.

"All parties with influence in the region simply have to exert that influence on the warring parties and ensure that chemical weapons aren't deployed again," Gabriel said.

The German top diplomat was referring to a devastating suspected gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun in April. The incident killed 87 civilians and 31 children.

"We have no doubt that the Syrian regime carried out this chemical strike, and not for the first time," Gabriel said. "We see him (Assad) as a war criminal."

Moscow and the Syrian government have rejected accusations that it carried out the gas attack. Assad has repeatedly claimed that his forces turned over all their stockpiles of chemical weapons in 2013, after a sarin gas attack killed almost 1,500 people in eastern Damascus. 
Germany and Russia call for new Ukraine solution

Lavrov and Gabriel also addressed the conflict in Ukraine, where the two men called for a peaceful solution.

The Russian foreign minster said that fresh talks and revision to the Minsk agreement brokered by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine were the only feasible solution for peace in the region.

Gabriel called on the warring parities to extend their temporary harvest ceasefire deal, saying it could pave the way towards a political solution.

"Strangely enough, a ceasefire deal seems to work when both sides have a mutual interest, namely getting the harvest done," Gabriel said. "The question is, why does one have to go back to violating the ceasefire once it's over?"

The German foreign minister also said that revisions to the 2015 Minsk accords were urgently needed, as the two sides had expressed different interpretations to the agreements.

Gabriel is on his third trip to Russia in four months, having taken over the role of Germany's top diplomat earlier this year. He is traveling on to Moscow on Thursday for further talks. 

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