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Photograph: freeimages.com/robert_driese

Britain must invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty "as soon as possible" in order to trigger negotiations on leaving the European Union, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Saturday after a meeting of top diplomats in response to the Brexit vote.

"The process after Article 50 has to be initiated ... as soon as possible to avoid a prolonged deadlock," Steinmeier said after meeting the foreign ministers of France, Italy and the Benelux countries - the founding members of the EU.

Britain should not "play a game of cat-and-mouse" by delaying negotiations on leaving the EU, which would cause significant insecurity in the markets, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

The meeting - which took place in the Villa Borsig, the Foreign Ministry's guest house - was hosted by Steinmeier to discuss next steps and to consult on an EU reform initiative that would allow more resistent members to carve out a looser relationship to Brussels.

Initiated by Germany and France, the reform effort is intended to prevent countries with strong eurosceptic movements such as France and the Netherlands from holding votes similar to Britain's in-out referendum, in which 52 per cent voted to leave.

"We must be given the opportunity to show that Europe is necessary, but also able to act" on issues including management of the refugee crisis and youth unemployment, Steinmeier said after the meeting.

West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg established the European Economic Community in 1957, the forerunner for today's EU.

Saturday's meeting faced criticism from those who argue that any attempt at reform should involve all 27 remaining member states.

Merkel is hosting EU President Donald Tusk, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande in Berlin on Monday, the eve of a two-day EU leaders summit in Brussels.

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