OTTAWA – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday night she is leaving North America having won support from the United States and Canada for her effort to find a peaceful diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.
In Ottawa, on a quick stopover after her earlier meeting on Monday in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama, Merkel firmly played down suggestions of a transatlantic rift with the U.S. over its plan to potentially arm Ukraine forces with lethal defensive weaponry to help them defend against Russian-backed separatists.
It’s a plan France and Germany oppose, and one that Obama said Monday he hasn’t made up his mind about just yet.
“I hope that we shall be able to solve this conflict by diplomatic means because I think by military means it cannot be solved,” Merkel said through a translator, standing next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper after a 45-minute meeting at his Parliament Hill office.
“I’m very grateful that both the American president and the Canadian prime minister support us in this endeavour and these efforts.”
Harper lauded Merkel with praise, calling her “a woman of great vision,” but the prime minister did not appear to take the option of joining the U.S. initiative off the table.
“We all hope that this situation will be resolved by diplomatic means,” Harper said, noting that Canada’s current assistance to Ukraine includes non-lethal military aid.
“Obviously, we’ll look at all options. But obviously we’ll proceed extremely cautiously in partnership and collaboration with all of our allies.”
Merkel’s stop in Canada’s capital was her latest in a week of whirlwind shuttle diplomacy to find a peaceful solution to the escalating Russian-backed incursion into eastern Ukraine.
Merkel met Obama in Washington earlier Monday, where the two leaders pledged solidarity.
Obama said he hasn’t made up his mind on the extra military assistance but if diplomacy fails, the U.S. is looking at whether “there are additional things we can do to help Ukraine bolster its defences in the face of Russian aggression.”
Merkel could end up coming face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice in the space of a week.
Along with French President Francois Hollande, she met with Putin in Moscow last Friday.
After a four-way phone call Sunday that also included Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the four leaders have agreed to peace talks in the Belarus capital of Minsk this coming Wednesday.
“We will see over the next few days whether there will be progress. That is anything but certain. If that is not the case, then although we are of different opinions, I already gave my opinion on lethal weapons or not,” Merkel said.
She said all future steps need to be co-ordinated among allies.
“Now we should put all of our efforts into the question: can we find a diplomatic solution?”
On Monday, the European Union said it would not order more sanctions on Russia until it saw the outcome of this week’s peace talks.
Merkel, who speaks Russian, has the closest relationship with Putin of any Western leader.
Harper, who has steadfastly snubbed Putin, is arguably the most distant of any G7 leader and is not part of any direct diplomatic initiative.
“I obviously admire the efforts of the chancellor, President Hollande and others are making to try and do that,” said Harper.
“Unfortunately, at this point in time, Mr. Putin has rejected diplomatic means. He seeks to move his agenda forward through military violence which is unfortunate.”
The United Nations estimates 5,300 people have been killed since last April when Russian separatists began clashing with Ukraine’s military.