Biden to host Merkel as German leader exits world stage

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President Biden will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Thursday ahead of the longtime leader’s exit from office in September.

The two are expected to endorse the “Washington Declaration” outlining their common vision for cooperation on shared policy challenges and their commitment to upholding democracy and the international rules-based order. 

A senior administration official said that “President Biden will convey gratitude” for Merkel’s leadership role in Europe and around the world.

Merkel has been Germany’s Chancellor for nearly 16 years.

While the U.S. and Germany share deep, historical ties and a robust economic and military relationship, the two countries are at odds over key issues including Berlin’s pursuit of a Russian natural gas pipeline, called Nord Stream 2.

The administration views the pipeline, which is considered about 90 to 95 percent complete, a geostrategic threat that allows Russia to threaten Ukraine by diverting key economic revenue related to natural gas delivery to Europe, while also raising the risk that Moscow’s control of such a pipeline gives it dangerous leverage over Germany and Europe. 

“I do expect that President Biden will raise his longstanding concerns with Chancellor Merkel during their meeting about Russia’s geopolitical project and about the importance of developing concrete mechanisms to ensure that energy is not used as a coercive tool against Ukraine, our Eastern flank allies, or any other country,” the senior administration official said in a briefing with reporters Wednesday ahead of Merkel’s visit. 

The Biden administration in May waived sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 construction in an effort to ease tensions with Germany and says it has shifted its strategy to prevent the pipeline from becoming operational. 

“We believe that the sanctions waivers that we announced in May have given us diplomatic space to be able to work with Germany, to have these conversations, to try and find ways to address the negative impacts of the pipeline,” the official said. “Our teams have been discussing these concerns. I expect that they will continue discussing these concerns.”

The U.S. and Germany are also at odds over a decision to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. The Biden administration believes that greater access to the development of the vaccine will help increase its distribution globally. 

The administration came out in May in support of waiving the trade protections, called the TRIPS waiver, but it was quickly rejected by Berlin.

“The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future,” a German government spokeswoman said in a statement at the time, Reuters reported.

The senior administration official, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, downplayed tensions over the TRIPS waiver and said Biden and Merkel will continue discussions about how to ramp up vaccine production and distribution around the world and through COVAX, the global vaccine alliance. 

“We’re encouraged that our announcement in May has encouraged other countries to be able to put additional proposals and ideas on the table,” the official said. “And I think that this broad goal is very much one that President Biden and Chancellor Merkel share in terms of their joint commitment to COVAX, the contributions that the United States, that Germany, the EU, and other countries made at the G-7 — and do expect that they will continue to have conversations about how we can ensure the widest distribution of vaccines on a very rapid time frame to a number of countries around the world as the best and most effective way of ultimately ending the pandemic.”

Other issues on the agenda include shared priorities in shoring up global health security, addressing climate change, shared security challenges in Afghanistan, Libya and the Sahel. The two leaders will address European regional challenges such as Russian cyberattacks and territorial aggression and countering China’s rising influence, human rights abuses and rogue economic practices.

They will also express commitments to shoring up democracy at home and defending human rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law around the world. 

The German leader’s schedule Thursday will include a working breakfast with Vice President Harris at the vice president’s residence. She will meet with Biden in the afternoon at the White House, first for a one-on-one meeting, followed by an expanded bilateral meeting and a press conference. 

In the evening, Biden will host Merkel for a small dinner with a “range of individuals,” the official said, that include supporters of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Germany. 

The visit will mark a notable shift from the Trump administration, where conflicts and clashes dominated the relationship, as the former president threatened to pull out of NATO and denigrated traditional transatlantic alliances that have dominated international norms since World War II.

Tags China Coronavirus COVID-19 FDA Germany Intellectual property Joe Biden NATO Nordstream pipeline trips
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