US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Germany as the Biden administration continues a diplomatic charm offensive designed to attract suspicious Western European allies after four years of turbulent relations under former President Donald Trump. This is despite some persistent differences with the main allies on energy and defense priorities.
Blinken arrived in Berlin on Wednesday to begin his second visit to Europe in seven days, after accompanying President Joe Biden to leaders’ meetings in Britain and Belgium. In discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Blinken plans to highlight the âAmerica is Backâ message that Biden personally delivered last week.
Biden is determined to assure Europe that Trump’s transactional approach to transatlantic relations is a thing of the past despite some important lingering differences with key NATO allies. These include a major dispute with Germany over the impending completion of a Russian gas pipeline and defense spending, both of which are issues related to the Trump years.
“This trip is a continuation of President Biden’s priority to rebuild our relations with our allies, including Germany, and that the strength of these relations will form the basis of many foreign policy priorities. “said America’s top diplomat. Europe Philip Reeker said this week.
U.S.-German relations have been particularly strained during Trump’s tenure, especially with regard to trade, military budgets, troop deployments, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project from Russia. Many say the pipeline will compromise European energy security and harm Central and Eastern Europe by bypassing Ukraine and Poland.
Merkel, however, strongly supports the project, which has been one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s key initiatives to boost Russia’s energy revenues.
In addition to Ukrainian and Polish objections, the pipeline faces strong bipartisan opposition in the US Congress, where Republican and Democratic lawmakers have severely criticized the administration for lifting sanctions on the German company that built it, the CEO. German company and several other executives in May. Critics saw the sanctions as a last-ditch effort to prevent the completion of the pipeline, which is now over 95% built.
By lifting sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and the leaders, the White House has rejected recommendations from the State Department and other agencies for the imposition of sanctions, according to officials and congressional staff familiar with the matter . Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan argued that the sanctions would do more harm than good in terms of repairing ties with Germany, they said.
âThe administration lifted some sanctions in an attempt to get something positive out of the difficult situation; rather than risk damaging relations with European allies with new sanctions, âReeker said. “We will use the space provided by these derogations to diplomatically engage Germany and take measures to reduce the risks that Nord Stream 2 poses for Ukraine and more generally for European energy security.”
Administration officials insist there are still ways to mitigate the impact of the pipeline, despite its advanced stage. They pointed out that even after the physical completion of the project, there are still some licensing, insurance and testing hurdles that it must pass before it becomes operational. Some officials believe it could delay its opening for nine to 12 months after its completion.
Blinken is expected to put pressure on Merkel, who is in her last three months in office, on the pipeline when they meet.
“Our goal remains to ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool against Ukraine or, frankly, against anyone in the region, and that will remain the basis on which we continue these conversations,” said Reeker.
After Germany, Blinken will travel to France and Italy as part of his week-long tour, his first trips to the three countries as Secretary of State.