WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Thursday in what is likely to be her last visit to Washington as head of state.
Thursday’s meetings will be far friendlier than the notoriously testy confrontations between Merkel and former President Donald Trump, who tussled over everything from NATO dues to the U.S. president’s Twitter taunts.
But there will be contentious issues on the agenda when Biden and Merkel sit down for a private one-on-one meeting. Among the toughest: the sharp split between the U.S. and Germany over Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Germany and that the U.S. fears will give Moscow increased leverage over Europe.
A senior administration official said Biden will raise his objections over the pipeline with Merkel and press her on “the importance of developing concrete mechanisms to ensure that energy is not used as a coercive tool against Ukraine” or other allies.
This official, who briefed reporters on the Biden-Merkel meeting on the condition of anonymity, defended the White House’s decision to forgo imposing sanctions on German companies involved in building the pipeline, a move that sparked bipartisan criticism from lawmakers in Congress. Biden’s advisers said the pipeline wasnearly completed before he took office and it was too late now to stop it.
The decision to waive sanctions has given the U.S. “diplomatic space” to work with Germany on the negative impacts of the the pipeline, the administration official said, although the source said the White House did not expect to announce any breakthroughs on the dispute.
Merkel has her own objectives for the visit.
“In part this is a farewell visit, in part she is signaling continuity and stability in the German-U.S. relationship,” said Johannes Timm, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a think tank in Berlin.
After 16 years working with Merkel, many officials in Washington and elsewhere are wondering what course Germany might take after the next election. The long-time chancellor — who has dealt with four U.S. presidents in her time — will seek to reassure them that there won’t be a huge shift, he said.
The two world leaders are expected to discuss a range of other issues, from climate change to the COVID pandemic to the withdrawal by the U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan. She will also meet with Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday morning.
Biden has made it a priority to repair America’s relationship with its European allies in the wake of Trump’s antagonistic approach to the bloc, which was marked by punitive tariffs, diplomatic slights and red-hot debates over multilateralism and NATO.
Trump clashed repeatedly with Merkel, and before his term ended, he ordered a drawdown of U.S. forces from Germany in what many viewed as a public rebuke of her. Biden has halted that reduction of forces and will use this meeting to highlight the “robust partnership” between Washington and Berlin.
He will also pay tribute to Merkel’s leadership in Germany and Europe as she prepares to leave the political stage, the official said.
Merkel’s party is leading in polls ahead of Germany’s Sept. 26 election, but the environmentalist Greens and the center-left Social Democrats are also vying to lead a future government.
Contributing: Associated Press