Biden, Merkel united against Russia, disagreements remain

July 16, 2021: US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have pledged a united front against “Russian aggression” from Moscow, while remaining at odds over the NordStream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.

As a result, the outgoing German leader’s last visit to the White House as head of state. Biden and Merkel were in a hurry to attack a well-known tone on the occasion of the German leader’s first visit to Washington after four years of friendly relations under former President Donald Trump.

“On a personal note, I must tell you I will miss seeing you at our summits,” Biden said as he stood by Merkel, the second-longest serving chancellor in Germany’s history, during a late afternoon joint news conference on Wednesday. “I truly will.”

Merkel, in turn, repeatedly referred to Biden as “Dear Joe”.

“I value the friendship,” she told reporters while hailing the US and Germany as sharing the same values and “determination to tackle the challenges of our times”.

On Russia, Biden and Merkel were careful to stress unity on standing up to “aggression” as they navigated a longstanding disagreement over the nearly-completed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which would deliver gas from the Arctic to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine and depriving it of valuable transit fees.

Washington has long opposed the $11 billion plan, arguing that it could increase the continent’s dependence on Russian gas and allow Moscow to exert political pressure on weak Eastern and Central European nations thereby endangering safety of the region.

Merkel, for her part, reiterated Berlin’s position that the pipeline was intended as an additional project, not as an alternative to the gas route to Ukraine. She added that Russia could face EU sanctions if it violated an agreement to continue supplying gas to Ukraine.

“Good friends can’t agree with that,” said Biden, who, in a sign of Detente, decided to not approve the company behind the pipeline even though the project was nearing completion, thereby angering some members of Congress. “We stand together and will stand together in NATO to defend our eastern side against Russian aggression.”

The visit comes amid uncertainty over how Germany and the United States will navigate further differences.

Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, plans to step down after the September national elections. Polling shows that their Christian Democrats are ready to take the lead in forming a government after the election, but it is not yet clear which parties will be included in the coalition. Meanwhile, Biden’s Democratic Party has a significant majority in the US Senate and House of Representatives. Those can evaporate in the 2022 congressional elections.

During the visit to the White House, the leaders also drew a cautious line about China, a policy area where Washington and Berlin have been at loggerheads in recent days.

Berlin has boosted its Chinese trade, while the Biden administration has made fighting Chinese competition a top foreign policy priority. “There is a common understanding that China, in many areas, is our competition.”

Merkel told reporters that trade with China needs to be based on the assumption that we have a level playing field. The two leaders said they would stand up for democratic principles and international rights when they saw China or any other country working to their detriment.

“We are united in our commitment to tackle democratic backwardness, corruption, the phony populism, either in the EU or among EU membership candidates, or anywhere in the world,” Biden said.

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