Biden, Merkel downplay differences on German leader’s farewell visit to US

By Lucia Leal

Washington, Jul 15 (EFE).- President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to disagree Thursday over Berlin’s decision to move forward with a pipeline carrying natural gas from Russia over the objections of the United States.

Merkel, the first European leader to visit Biden at the White House since he became president in January, is set to step down as chancellor in a few months after more than 15 years at the helm.

“She knows the Oval Office as well as I do,” Biden quipped of the 66-year-old German chancellor whose tenure has spanned the terms of four US presidents.

Though Merkel’s sojourn is officially classified as a working visit, Biden has laid on some of the trappings of a state visit, including a dinner at the White House.

The chancellor was noticeably more at ease Thursday than on the occasion of her meeting here four years ago with then-President Donald Trump.

But when a reporter at the joint press conference with Biden tried to draw her on the difference in her relationships with the current and former president, Merkel was circumspect.

The German chancellor needs to “work with every American president,” Merkel said, speaking through an interpreter.

“Today was a very friendly exchange,” she said with a smile.

Even so, the leaders did not hide their differences on the nearly complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will transport Russian gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on German companies in an ultimately fruitless bid to compel Berlin to abandon the project.

Biden recently dropped those sanctions, hoping that a less confrontational stance might soften Germany’s resistance to reconsidering the pipeline, yet the Germans have shown no signs of being willing to walk away from the project.

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

“My view on Nord Stream 2 has been known for some time. Good friends can disagree, but by the time I became president, it was 90 percent completed and imposing sanctions did not seem to make any sense,” he said.

Biden cited the worries of Ukraine and other Eastern European countries that the creation of Nord Stream 2 will allow Russia to end the transit of gas through Ukrainian territory.

He said that he and the chancellor asked their “teams to look at practical measures we could take together, and whether or not Europe’s energy security, Ukraine’s security, are actually strengthened or weakened based on Russian actions.”

Merkel said that Nord Stream 2 is not intended to replace the Ukrainian route.

“Our idea is and remains that Ukraine remains a transit country for natural gas,” she said.

Regarding China, another issue on which Washington and Berlin have diverged, Merkel endorsed Biden’s tough stand toward Beijing on fair trade, human rights and Hong Kong autonomy, without repudiating her own previous insistence on the need for Europe and the US to work with the Chinese on matters such as climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.

“How we deal with China ought to rest – and does rest – on our shared values,” she said. EFE llb/dr

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