Merkel Heads to Moscow to Discuss Iran Crisis, U.S. Sanctions on Nord Stream 2

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to travel to Moscow Saturday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to discuss the Iran crisis, with both Germany and Russia calling for de-escalation following the U.S. targeted killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and the retaliatory airstrikes by Tehran on Western military bases in Iraq, DW writes.

The Ukraine conflict is also on the agenda, alongside the future of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany, amid strong opposition from the United States.

But analyst Alexander Baunov, a political observer at the Carnegie Moscow Center, says “Ukraine has stopped being so toxic” for relations between Moscow and Berlin. He pointed to recent progress on resolving the Ukraine crisis under the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as evidence of a political thaw.

Merkel and Putin may have been pushed apart by the Ukraine crisis but they are being brought closer “by the one-sidedness and unpredictability of US actions,” Baunov told DW, pointing to U.S. sanctions imposed against the Russian-German gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 last year, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Putin will host Merkel shortly after returning from a trip to the Middle East this week. The Russian president made a rare visit to Damascus, Syria Tuesday, only his second trip there since Russia intervened in 2015 to aid President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war. Iran and its proxies have also provided significant support to Assad’s forces.

With its growing entanglement in Middle Eastern affairs, Russia is trying to avert the outbreak of a new conflict in Iran, says analyst Andrew Foxall of policy analyst group The Henry Jackson Society.

Iran presents President Putin with the opportunity to present himself as a peacemaker rather than a ‘peace-breaker’,” Foxall says. “And in that sense, his interests are very firmly aligned with Chancellor Merkel as they both believe in the JCPOA (the 2015 Iran nuclear deal); they both believe that discussion and debate are far more preferable than the conflict and confrontation that is currently taking place between Tehran and Washington.”

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