Merkel, Biden chart course for future of US-German relations in White House meeting

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The ongoing dispute between the United States and Germany over a Russian gas pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, played out between the two leaders of the Oval Office on Thursday, according to Biden.

“While I reiterated my concerns about Nord Stream 2, Chancellor Merkel and I are absolutely united in our belief that Russia should not be allowed to use energy as a weapon to coerce or threaten its neighbors,” said Biden said at a joint press conference alongside Merkel. .

“My take on Nord Stream 2 has been known for some time. Good friends may disagree, but by the time I became president it was 90% finished and imposing sanctions didn’t seem to have happened. meaning, “he continued.

Instead, Biden said, the two leaders “asked our teams to consider the practical steps we could take together, and whether or not Europe’s energy security, Ukraine’s security is really strengthened or weakened on the basis of Russian actions “.

Climate change, Covid-19 vaccines, Russian cyber attacks, Ukraine and strengthening their democracies were also topics on the agenda, an official said.

The visit came just three months before Merkel stepped down as Chancellor of Germany in October, having held the post for more than 15 years. Elections to replace the “Chancellor of the Free World” take place in September.

Biden is the fourth US president she has interacted with. And on Thursday, Merkel said it was her 23rd visit to Washington since becoming Chancellor.

Administration officials have consistently described the visit as a forward-looking “working” session, despite Merkel’s limited time at the top of the German government. But after a decade and a half of visiting Washington, his last trip to meet with a US president was a time to reflect on his legacy.

Upon arriving at the Oval Office, Biden called Merkel a “personal friend, as well as a friend of the United States.” And at their joint press conference, the president said he would miss her.

“Madam Chancellor, I know that the partnership between Germany and the United States will only grow stronger on the foundations that you have helped to build. On a personal note, I must tell you that you will be missed at our summits. I really am willpower, ”Biden said.

Merkel started the day with a breakfast hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris at the Naval Observatory. She is the first foreign leader Harris has welcomed into his residence since moving in.

They discussed “national and international issues, including current challenges, the history between the two counties and future efforts,” according to a White House official.

Following the news that the floods killed several people in Germany, Merkel called the floods a “disaster”.

“Here in Washington, my thoughts are also always with the people of our homeland,” Merkel said Thursday morning. “Peaceful places go through a disaster at these times, you could say a tragedy. Heavy rains and floods are very inadequate words to describe this – so it really is a disaster.”

Biden and Merkel met one-on-one in the Oval Office ahead of an expanded session with assistants and a concluding joint press conference. Biden and his wife will host Merkel and her husband for a White House dinner with a “range of people” who have been supporters of Germany. Minority Parliamentary Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, is expected to attend the dinner, which will take place hours after meeting former President Donald Trump at his New Jersey golf club.

Merkel will also receive an honorary degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies while in the United States, marking her 18th honorary degree to date.

The leaders unveiled a “Washington Declaration” which sets out a common vision for cooperation on various political challenges, and a shared commitment to human rights and the results that democratic leadership provides to the world. They also announced other initiatives, including a “futures forum” which brings together Americans and Germans from different sectors; an economic dialogue; and a climate-energy partnership.

The meeting took place shortly after the White House recently announced that Biden would appoint Amy Gutmann as U.S. ambassador to Germany. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to fill this role.

A warm relationship with crucial points of friction

So far, signs point to a resumption of warm relations between the two countries after four years of Trump’s “America First” diplomatic approach. The approach marked a break with the Obama administration’s foreign policy era – when Merkel viewed then-President Barack Obama as a “partner and friend.”

But in particular, Merkel has maintained that there will always be disputes between Germany and the United States with Biden as president.

“Don’t think that from tomorrow there will only be harmony between us,” she told reporters a day after Biden’s inauguration. “There will also be discussions on how best to do things for our two countries.”

Biden and Merkel have met on several occasions, and Thursday’s White House meeting will be their second in-person meeting since Biden was sworn in.

Following the G7 summit in the UK earlier this spring, Merkel said Biden brought “new momentum” to the rally. She said being able to meet Biden was “obviously important because it represents the commitment to multilateralism that we have been missing in recent years” – an apparent nod to Trump’s approach. She also invited the president to Germany.

Biden and Merkel have interacted regularly on the world stage since the Obama years.

While a vice president, Biden addressed a number of foreign policy issues as part of his portfolio, traveling to the Munich Security Conference each year and appearing alongside Merkel. At the time, Biden made known his differences with Germany over whether to send weapons to Ukraine.

Obama, meanwhile, visited Germany half a dozen times during his tenure – excluding stops at Ramstein Air Base, a common pit stop for Air Force One on extended trips.

But despite their commonalities, Biden and Merkel still have a number of differences that will be on the table when they meet in Washington on Thursday.

The United States believes that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which transports natural gas from Russia directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea, will give Moscow undue leverage on Europe’s energy sector. But the White House does not expect to reach a resolution when it comes up on Thursday.

Biden will share his “long-standing concerns” about Nord Stream 2 with Merkel, including his desire to ensure that it is not used for coercive purposes against Ukraine, according to an official.

Instead, officials believe Biden’s decision earlier this year to lift Congressional sanctions against Germany allowed “diplomatic space” for talks between the two sides, though no resolution on the thorny. question was not found.

Matthias Matthijs, senior research fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations and associate professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said it was clear that Germany “wants to move forward with the pipeline and wants to reassure the United States that it has won, don’t give (President Vladimir’s) Putin’s Russia the opportunity to blackmail the EU. ”

“The Germans are hoping to get the basic green light (Nord Stream 2), a commitment from the United States that they can increase their exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe, and will want to avoid getting dragged into a new cold war with China, where Berlin has its own commercial interests, ”he added. Matthijis also said the Germans are hoping the United States will lift their hundreds of tariffs on the European Union, but this is an area Biden is less likely to engage in.

China is also likely to expose the differences between the two leaders. Merkel has advocated a more cooperative approach towards Beijing – her country’s most important trading partner – even as Biden struggles to consolidate Western support for a more confrontational approach.

Those differences were manifested at the G7 summit last month, although Merkel joined other European leaders in signing a final declaration denouncing China’s forced labor practices.

Biden has been clear in talks with Merkel and other leaders about the need to “engage China from a position of strength,” one official said – a message he will repeat on Thursday.

Yet the Biden administration’s diplomatic approach contrasts with the Trump years.

During his tenure, Trump hammered Germany over trade and its lack of financial contributions to NATO’s shared defense. He decided to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany and accused Germany of being indebted to Russia for buying energy from Moscow. And he also started to insult Merkel personally over the phone, telling her at one point that she was “stupid”.
Merkel, in turn, has often spoken of Trump’s rhetoric and rebuffed Trump’s claim that Germany is captive of Russia by referring to her own upbringing in Soviet-controlled East Germany.

Merkel will be the first European leader to visit Biden in the White House. He met Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in April and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in May.

CNN’s Nadine Schmidt, DJ Judd and Ryan Nobles contributed to this report.

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