Prior to the meeting, Foreign Minister Maas made the following statement to the German Press Agency:
We will be launching a joint thematic year that focuses on university and scientific cooperation, and we will deepen our dialogue on these and other issues. We will also talk about what lies ahead in Syria. We will express our expectation to the Russian side that there must be no major offensive in Idlib, that there must be a political process in Syria, and that guarantees must be put in place to protect those who have fled the country but wish to return. We all know what’s at stake. It is about warding off the greatest danger – specifically, preventing a new humanitarian disaster. Russia plays a key role in this regard, and we have certain expectations. We will have a candid discussion about this issue.
If the Russians want to give refugees the possibility to return to Syria, that’s something we welcome in principle. But it will not work if no one wants to take this opportunity to return to Syria, because they fear being persecuted, arrested and dispossessed. In that respect, Russia’s initiative to return refugees does not look very promising at this time. For it to succeed, the necessary prerequisites would first need to be created in the country. This to some extent hinges on the political process that is under the auspices of the United Nations.
If a political solution is found for Syria that ultimately leads to free elections, then we are ready to assume a share of the responsibility for reconstruction. We have an interest in ensuring that Syria becomes a stable country. For that to happen, it needs to be rebuilt. Neither the Russians, nor the Iranians, nor Turkey, will be able to do this on their own. In that regard, we will be called upon to play an important role.
We cannot envision there being a permanent solution with Assad. It should be noted that the UN-led process, which aims to bring about elections, places the final decision in the hands of all Syrians. This includes those who have fled their country and wish to return.