Biden says goodbye to Merkel: Friends – with differences of opinion

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WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden welcomed Angela Merkel one last time to the White House and on Thursday renewed his concerns to the German Chancellor about a large, almost complete gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, but said they agreed that Russia would not may be allowed to use energy as a weapon.

The two discussed – although apparently no progress – differences over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline during a largely friendly farewell visit for Merkel as she neared the end of her political career, which spanned four American presidencies.

“Personally, I have to tell you that I will miss you at our summits,” said Biden when he was standing next to Merkel, the second longest incumbent Chancellor in German history, at a press conference in the White House in the late afternoon. “I really will.”

Merkel, who is known to have had a difficult relationship with former President Donald Trump, showed her ease and familiarity with Biden, who has long been a fixture in international politics, and repeatedly referred to him as “Dear Joe”.

When asked to compare her relationship with Biden with hers with Trump, Merkel remained diplomatic and said only that it was in the interests of every German Chancellor to “work with every American President”. “Today was a very friendly exchange,” she adds with a smile.

But despite her personal warmth, American-German relations are breaking new ground when Merkel, who is not seeking another term in the September elections, is about to step down from office. There are concerns on both sides as to how the two nations will negotiate growing disagreements.

The United States has long argued that the Nord Stream 2 project will threaten Europe’s energy security by increasing the continent’s reliance on Russian gas and allowing Russia to put political pressure on vulnerable Eastern and Central European countries, particularly Ukraine. However, Biden recently waived sanctions against German companies involved in the project, a move that angered many in Congress.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, wrote in a letter to Biden Thursday ahead of the leaders’ meeting, expressing concerns that the pipeline is already having an economic impact on U.S. ally Ukraine. Rubio said that Gazprom, the company that operates Nord Stream 2, “has already started reducing the use of pipelines in Ukraine” as the new gas pipeline is nearing completion.

Merkel tried to downplay the differences and emphasize that the pipeline, in addition to the Ukrainian pipelines, is – not intended – to supplant.

“Our idea is and will remain that Ukraine remains a transit country for natural gas, that Ukraine, like any other country in the world, has a right to territorial sovereignty,” said Merkel. She added that Germany was ready to react to Moscow “should Russia not respect this right of Ukraine as a transit country”.

Merkel also expressed concern about COVID-19 travel restrictions, which are preventing most Europeans from traveling to the US

Biden said he had brought in the head of his coronavirus task force to discuss the issue and expected to be able to provide a more definitive answer “within the next seven days” on when restrictions could be eased.

Merkel started her day with a working breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris, and Harris’ office said the two had had a “very frank discussion”.

At home in Germany, Merkel’s country and neighboring Belgium struggled with the aftermath of the severe floods More than 60 people died and dozens went missing.

“My condolences go out to the relatives and the dead and missing,” she said.

Officials in Washington and elsewhere are wondering what course Germany might take after the September vote.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union leads in polls, but also the environmentalists Greens and the center-left Social Democrats are vying for a future government. Although the three parties differ in many policy areas, they are all committed to a strong transatlantic relationship.

Germany maintains close trade ties with China, but also criticizes Beijing’s human rights record. Merkel wants to avoid Germany or the European Union being forced to choose between China and the USA.

Merkel has insisted on the need to work with China on global issues like climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, despite then-President Trump accusing Beijing of causing the pandemic.

Nonetheless, Merkel stressed in her comments to reporters that she would like Germany and the European Union to coordinate their China policy with Washington, including on issues such as labor rights, trade and cybersecurity.

“I believe that the fundamentals of our dealings with China should be based on the values ​​shared by the US and Germany,” she said.

The Doctors Without Borders humanitarian group urged Biden to turn to Merkel to give up her opposition to proposals to suspend vaccine patents. Merkel, a trained scientist, has argued that revoking the patents would not be effective and could harm future research and development efforts.

A group of Democratic MPs called on Germany to lift its “blockade” of a COVID-19-related waiver of intellectual property rights in accordance with global trade rules. Such a waiver, argued the legislature, would help increase the production of effective vaccines around the world.

The Biden government has expressed support for the waiver discussed in the World Trade Organization, but White House officials did not expect the differences to be resolved during Merkel’s visit.

Although there are tension points, Biden seemed anxious to offer Merkel a fitting farewell.

He receives Merkel and her husband as well as a number of current and former MPs and administrative officials in the White House for a dinner on Thursday evening. On the guest list are Secretary of State Antony Blinken and two of his predecessors – Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell.

The Republican Senate and House Representatives, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, will also be present along with other senior US and German officials.

Harris received Merkel for breakfast early on Thursday at her residence on the grounds of the US Navy Observatory and praised her for her “extraordinary career”. Merkel, in turn, pointed out the historical character of the Harris Vice Presidency.

“I can only say that I am also delighted to have this opportunity to meet the first female Vice President of the United States of America here,” said Merkel, before the two leaders entered a residence to have breakfast with Gruyère soufflé entertaining, seasonal fruit and sausages.

Also on Thursday, Merkel received an honorary doctorate, her 18th, from Johns Hopkins University and spoke at the university’s School of Advanced International Studies.

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Jordans answered from Berlin and Madhani from Chicago.

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