Merkel Set For Talks In Moscow Amid Rising Middle East Tensions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to travel to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that will likely focus on the raised tensions in the Middle East.

The Kremlin said the meeting will take place on January 11 and address the “situation in Syria and Libya, as well as the escalation of tensions in the Middle East following a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad’s airport on January 3.”

The U.S. air strike killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, who commanded Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign arm of the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), both of which have been designated as terror organizations by the United States.

The attack led to a retaliatory strike by Iran and raised fears of a new armed conflict in the region.

Adding to the tension was the crash of a Ukrainian airliner shortly after take-off near Tehran, killing all 176 on board. The West suspects an Iranian missile knocked down the plane, likely in error. Tehran early on January 11 admitted it had “unintentionally” shot the plane down after days of denials.

German spokesman Steffen Seibert earlier this week said Merkel wants to discuss the “current trouble spots” in the Middle East.

“Obviously, tensions between the U.S. and Iran, along with a number of other issues, can be the subject of the talks between the chancellor and President Putin in Moscow,” Seibert said.

“Russia is an important actor on the world stage. And as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is also indispensable in terms of solving political conflicts,” Seibert said.

Merkel and Putin met last month in Paris as part of efforts to forge a renewed cease-fire for war-torn eastern Ukraine, where Russia backs separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces.

Russia and Germany are also involved in efforts to bring about a cease-fire in Libya.

With reporting by dpa and TASS

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