U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House on July 15 in what will be her last official visit to Washington as she prepares to step down after leading Germany for 16 years.
Merkel is expected to emphasize the continuity and stability of the German-U.S. relationship and acknowledge the change of tone under Biden, who has pledged to seek unity with traditional U.S. allies in contrast to the diplomatic discord of former President Donald Trump’s tenure.
"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 at the start of their meeting in the Oval Office.
"I value the friendship," Merkel said.
The two are scheduled to make wider press statements after their discussion.
During the bilateral talks, the two veteran politicians are expected to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, China, Russia, trade, climate change, and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will bring natural gas from Russia to Germany. The latter issue has created a rare strain between the two allies and hampered efforts to patch up relations since Trump’s departure.
The nearly completed $11 billion pipeline being laid under the Baltic Sea is a project that the United States has long opposed. Washington argues that it threatens European energy security and will deprive Ukraine of transit fees it collects off land pipelines that cross its territory.
Biden signaled in May that he is ready to get past the issue when he waived looming sanctions against German entities involved in the project, saying it is almost finished and sanctions would harm relations with European allies.
The pragmatic Merkel has said that the project is merely a means of doing business with Russia and a matter of national sovereignty. She also has pointed out that Ukraine will remain a transit route for natural gas even after completion of the pipeline.
China also will be a topic of discussion.
Germany has strong trade ties with China but has also been critical of Beijing's human rights record. Merkel has insisted on the need to cooperate with China on global issues such as combating climate change and tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
But she hopes to avoid a situation in which Germany or the European Union might be forced to choose sides between China and the United States.
Washington is also wondering what course Germany might take after German parliamentary elections on September 26, which will bring the first change in leadership in Germany since 2005 as Merkel prepares to step down.
Merkel is expected to reassure U.S. leaders that there won't be a huge shift.
Merkel's Christian Democratic Union is leading in the polls, but the environmentalist Greens and the center-left Social Democrats are also vying to lead a future government. All three parties are committed to a strong transatlantic relationship.
A solid showing for the Greens, currently polling second place, could put them in a position to join a coalition government with the conservatives for the first time at the federal level.
All three parties are committed to a strong transatlantic relationship.
Merkel already met Vice President Kamala Harris in the morning and was set to meet other top officials and members of congress.
Before meeting Biden, Merkel received her 18th honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, where she commented on her upcoming retirement and plans for the future.
She said she needed a pause to think about “what really interests me.”
“And then I’ll try to read, then I’ll rest a bit, because I’m very tired, and then I’ll sleep, and then we’ll see what happens,” she said.