U.S. President Donald Trump's attempts to isolate North Korea and further stoke military tensions in the Korean peninsula faced a further setback this weekend as German Chancellor Angela Merkel floated the possibility that she would assist in a diplomatic initiative to end the regional crisis.
Merkel cited the Iran nuclear talks as a model and joined a growing chorus of voices seeking to avoid military conflict in Asia.
The comments from the leading head of state come amid a rift that's grown between Berlin and Washington over topics ranging from trade policy to the Paris climate deal, sanctions, as well as the question of Germany's growing role in Europe.
Merkel, who is predicted to win the September 24 general elections, is seen by German constituents as a safe and predictable bet during times of global uncertainty.
The proposal resembles the positions of Beijing and Moscow, who have unequivocally condemned North Korea's thermonuclear weapons tests yet have been vocal about the need to mitigate the escalating tensions by diplomatically engaging, rather than threatening, Pyongyang.
"If our participation in talks is desired, I will immediately say yes," Merkel told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
She pointed to negotiations that led to a landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers in 2015, when Germany and five other countries on the United Nations Security Council with veto power took part in talks that led to Iran agreeing to curb its nuclear program in return for a lifting of most sanctions.
Referring to the agreement as "a long but important time of diplomacy," she noted the positive outcome of the laborious negotiation process that came to a "happy ending" last year, when the deal was implemented.
"I could imagine such a format being used to settle the North Korea conflict. Europe and especially Germany should be prepared to play a very active part in that," Merkel added, nothing that a nuclear arms race would serve no one's interests.
Europe should unite its efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution and "do everything that can be done in terms of sanctions", she said.
The publication of Merkel's proposal came shortly after Friday's discussion held between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the French President Emmanuel Macron, who both condemned Pyongyang's weapons tests while agreeing to redouble efforts to resolve the crisis through peaceful and diplomatic means.
Merkel has spoken to the Chinese leader and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about North Korea in the past few days.
According to the newspaper, she will speak by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
Last week, Putin criticized U.S. calls to continue isolating and punishing Pyongyang, saying that “creating military atmosphere and raising hysteria is counterproductive and will lead nowhere." The Russian leader also raised the possibility of involving North Korea and South Korea in joint projects including the construction of new rail links and energy projects. Responding, South Korean President Moon Jae-In expressed his appreciation of Russia's support for the cause of building “a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula and improved relations between the two Korean states.”
"We are certain that the policy of maximizing pressures on North Korea, including sanctions, has exhausted itself. We have said this more than once,"Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Friday. "Clearly, a military disaster in Northeast Asia or a humanitarian disaster inside the DPRK will be its net effect."
"We are actively working with all parties at various levels to find a peaceful solution to the Korean Peninsula’s problems," the diplomat added. "To that end, we welcome any peace initiatives by the interested countries and willingness to act as mediators or provide a platform for negotiations.”
In contrast, the U.S. Committee on Armed Services chairman Senator John McCain, told reporters of the need to boost weapons shipments to South Korea while adding that China could face U.S. measures curbing bilateral trade if it fails to convince Pyongyang to "put the brakes on" its weapons programs. The ailing senator also warned that if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “acts in an aggressive fashion, the price will be extinction.”
U.S. officials have rejected China and Russia's proposal for the suspension of its large-scale military drills on the Korean peninsula in exchange for North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.
“We stress that the Russian-Chinese joint initiative, namely, the roadmap for the Korean settlement, is open to new proposals and additions,” Zakharova noted. “At the moment, there is no alternative to it."