Visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle reaffirmed on Tuesday the two sides\' mutual commitment to an EU-U.S. free trade zone agreement with negotiations set to begin in the summer. \"We are in full agreement that a transatlantic free trade deal needs to come. We are both serious about this,\" Westerwelle said at a joint news conference with Kerry, adding that negotiations could begin in the summer if preparation goes on well. He said the deal would create economic growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic without having to make new debt. On his part, Kerry said President Obama had made it a priority to make efforts towards reaching a free trade agreement that would benefit both sides. Germany is now Washington\'s largest trade partner in Europe and one of the leading importers of U.S. goods. Westerwelle also praised Kerry\'s German visit shortly after taking office as \"a clear commitment to the transatlantic partnership.\" The two sides also discussed issues including withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, Iran\'s disputed nuclear program, as well as the ongoing conflict in Syria. Kerry declined to elaborate on proposals to end the violence in Syria until after a meeting slated for later in the week with leaders of the Syrian opposition, but he expressed hope on the Iranian nuclear issue that Iran would move down \"the path of a diplomatic solution.\" After his meeting with the German foreign minister, Kerry will deliver a joint statement with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Kerry is alsoscheduled to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later Tuesday.