Biden, Merkel still diverge over Nord Stream 2

U.S. President Joe Biden and visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday came out of a meeting at the White House without a deal on their dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, as widely expected.

“I reiterated my concerns about Nord Stream 2,’’ Biden told reporters at a joint press conference after the meeting.

But he added they agreed that “Russia must not be allowed to use energy as a weapon to coerce or threaten its neighbors.’’

The 1,230-km gas pipeline, expected to be completed next month, would bring natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea.

Washington has long maintained that the pipeline endangered energy security.

The U.S. and Germany have different assessments regarding the Nord Stream 2, Merkel said at the conference, while stressing both agreed that Ukraine will remain a transit country for natural gas.

The U.S. has long claimed that the project was a geopolitical maneuver by Russia that would undermine Ukraine’s role in transiting energy to Europe.

Germany and Russia pointed out that the project is purely commercial.

Citing the importance of relations with Germany and the difficulty to stop the nearly completed pipeline, the Biden administration in May waived sanctions against a company behind the pipeline project and its German CEO.

This led to opposition from bipartisan lawmakers.

As a part of the waiver, Germany and the U.S. must reach an agreement on the pipeline over the next three months.

Merkel was the first European leader to visit the White House since Biden took office.

The visit was widely seen as Biden’s efforts to restore the relationship between Washington and Berlin, which had been damaged by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Trump constantly blasted NATO allies for what he said was taking advantage of U.S. willingness to foot the bill for Europe’s defence for decades.

At times Trump dressed down European leaders in public, accusing them of not paying their fair share of defence costs.

In 2019, Trump singled out Germany for failing to meet the two per cent NATO military expenditure benchmark.

In sharp contrast, Biden sees European allies as vital to pursuing his foreign policy and in meeting challenges from nations Washington views as competitors.

“The cooperation between the U.S. and Germany is strong, and we hope to continue that, and I’m confident that we will,’’ Biden said.

Biden called Merkel a great friend, a personal friend, and a friend of the U.S.’’

“I value the friendship,” Merkel said at the White House.

William Courtney, a retired U.S. ambassador and now an adjunct senior fellow at U.S. nonprofit global think tank RAND Corporation, told Xinhua that U.S.-Germany relations are likely to become closer.

“It feels like the U.S. has already conceded on Nord Stream 2 since Biden waived sanctions a few months ago. That was to my mind a mistake,’’ Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution said.

“That said, I think Biden will handle the overall relationship well and restore a strong sense of shared purpose.

“The real question, of course, as Germans rightly recognise, is what will happen in the U.S. in 2025 and beyond,’’ O’Hanlon said.

U.S. Democrats hold a slim majority in Congress, and it remains unclear what will happen in next year’s midterm elections, as well as the 2024 race for the White House.

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