Thursday, April 25, 2024

Biden, Merkel stress friendship while agreeing to disagree on pipeline

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Washington – United States president Joe Biden and German chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday agreed to disagree about a Russian pipeline project that Washington opposes, while vowing to stand together against aggression from Moscow and anti-democratic action from Beijing.

At what is likely to be the German leader’s final visit to the White House before she retires from politics, Biden praised Merkel’s “exemplary life of ground-breaking service to Germany” and to the world at large.

Merkel is the first European leader to visit Biden at the White House since he took office.

Transatlantic ties suffered under the tenure of former U.S. president Donald Trump, and both Merkel and Biden, who was inaugurated in January, were eager to show the relationship was on the mend during their time together.

“I value the friendship,” Merkel said in the Oval Office, mentioning America’s role in building a free and democratic Germany after World War II.

Despite the cordiality, some disagreements were apparent: Biden reiterated his concerns about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany; the United States fears Moscow will use it as a cudgel against Ukraine. The U.S. $11 billion project, which is expected to be finished in September, will bypass Ukraine, potentially depriving it of transit fees.

The president reiterated that he decided against issuing sanctions on Germany because the project was near completion, a decision that drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.

But Biden said he and Merkel were united in their belief that Russia should not use energy as a geopolitical weapon.

“Good friends can disagree,” he said about the pipeline during a joint news conference with Merkel. “We stand together and will continue to stand together to defend our eastern-flank allies at NATO against Russian aggression.”

Merkel noted the differences of opinion, but she emphasised points of unity between the two countries.

“We all share the same values; we all share the same determination to tackle the challenges of our times,” she said.

Biden pledged to have a decision soon on whether to lift a pandemic-related ban on Europeans travelling to the U.S. that has irked Germany and other allies.

Washington and Berlin also have differing views on doing business with China, which Germany has wooed for trade.

But both leaders said they would stand up for democratic principles and universal rights when they saw China or any other country working to undermine them.

“We are united,” Biden said. “United in our commitment to addressing democratic backsliding, corruption and phony populism in the European Union or among candidates for EU membership, or anywhere we find it in the world.”

(Reuters)

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