BERLIN (Reuters) - Europe needs to make a greater contribution to stabilizing the Middle East and should think about developing a joint strategy with Russia to reduce tensions between regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.
Schaeuble, a vastly experienced member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Europe could not have a strategy in the Middle East or Africa without working with the United States and Russia.
"If I correctly understand Russia's security interests with regard to Islamist terror, it rather has problems with Sunni-based aspirations," he wrote in an opinion piece to run in the newspaper's Monday edition.
"Why then shouldn't we be able to develop a joint strategy with Russia to reduce differences between a Saudi-led Sunni coalition and an Iran-led Shi'ite coalition?" he asked.
Schaeuble's willingness to work with Russia in the Middle East contrasts with Berlin's firm position with Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.
Germany has been instrumental in brokering a fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
But last month German Chancellor Angela Merkel said sanctions against Moscow could only be lifted when the Minsk peace deal is fully implemented and that was not yet the case.
Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations and cut off trade and transport ties with Iran this month after protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. The protests erupted following the Saudi execution of a leading Shi'ite cleric that outraged predominantly Shi'ite Iranians.
(Writing by Paul Carrel; editing by Adrian Croft)