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Europe must keep its communication channels open for Russia

The European Union must keep open its channels of communication with Russia if it hopes to help stabilize the Caucasus, Germany's foreign minister said Thursday.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier's comments came a day after EU ministers agreed to consider sending a mission to monitor a fragile peace deal between Russia and Georgia - but were divided over whether to punish Moscow for taking military action.

"It remains the case that a levelheaded policy is the one that most helps people in the region," Steinmeier told reporters after a meeting of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee.

"We must criticize what needs to be criticized and we have done so in the past - using the necessary clear words with our Russian interlocutors - particularly regarding bombing in Georgia and the presence of Russian troops in Georgia proper," Steinmeier said.

"But we should ... assume realistically that, if the EU really wants to play a stronger role in the region, if the EU wants to help stabilize this crisis-shaken region, it must keep open the channels of communication to Tbilisi and to Moscow."

Chancellor Angela Merkel is to travel to the Russian Black Sea port of Sochi on Friday for a previously arranged meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev.