July 15, 2021
By Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden welcomed outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House on Thursday to discuss disagreements over Russia and China as the two leaders seek to strengthen a relationship that suffered under former President Donald Trump.
The United States and Germany are key NATO allies. Biden and Merkel have known and worked with each other for years.
But their two governments are at odds over a host of tough issues including the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, which Washington fears will hurt Ukraine and increase European reliance on Russian gas.
They also disagree over the wisdom of partnering with China on business projects, temporary patent waivers aimed at speeding global COVID-19 vaccine production and ongoing restrictions on Europeans traveling to the United States.
Biden, 78, and Merkel, 66, see eye to eye on a string of broader matters, and both want to strengthen the transatlantic relationship that suffered under Trump’s frequent, withering criticism of close U.S. allies.
“The cooperation between the United States and Germany is strong and we hope to continue that, and I’m confident that we will,” Biden said as they began a meeting that lasted well over an hour. He noted Merkel had been to the Oval Office many times and called her “a great friend, a personal friend, and a friend of the United States.”
“I value the friendship,” said Merkel, the first European leader to visit Biden at the White House, underscoring America’s role in building a free and democratic Germany after World War Two.
The two leaders were due to discuss threats to democracy around the world, Russian cyberattacks and territorial aggression in Eastern Europe and China’s push to dominate advanced technologies, U.S. and German officials said. Ending the pandemic and curbing climate change were also on the agenda.
The two leaders do not have much time to work together to strengthen ties between the world’s largest and fourth-largest economies.
Merkel, chancellor since 2005, plans to exit Germany’s government after national elections in September, meaning she is likely to be seen as a “lame duck” in her final months in power.
Polling shows her Christian Democrats are poised to take the lead in forming a government after the election, but it remains unclear which parties would be included in a coalition.
Biden’s Democratic Party has tenuous majorities in the U.S. Congress that could evaporate in the 2022 congressional elections.
John Emerson, who served as ambassador to Germany under former President Barack Obama, said the relationship remains “indispensable” for Washington given Germany’s role as the largest economy in Europe and a NATO ally, as well as its importance as a bridge builder in dealing with Russia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Germany hosts some 36,000 U.S. troops on its soil.
After meeting with Biden and a joint news conference, Merkel and her husband will attend a dinner hosted by the Bidens at the White House. Guests include U.S. lawmakers, former secretaries of state Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton and the Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the White House said.
Merkel’s White House visit showed the United States is trying to make amends with an ally that was often attacked during the Trump years.
“Inviting her to come is important symbolically, but it’s also an opportunity to get the relationship back on the right track, and that is clearly happening,” Emerson said.
Germany’s transatlantic coordinator, Peter Beyer, said Germans were aware that there was only a limited time available to move forward, given the risk that Biden could be weakened after the 2022 congressional elections.
Merkel may advise Biden on what to expect in the next German government, said Jackson Janes, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
“I think it will be a sense of saying: ‘Thanks for the memories,’ and maybe a little bit more about what (Biden) should be thinking about as he deals with the next administration in Berlin,” he said of Merkel’s likely message on her trip.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Andreas Rinke and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Editing by Peter Cooney, Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)