Washington (AP) – As Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden appear before the press at the White House, she asks for understanding that she wants to talk about the fatal flood at home first.
“Hundreds of thousands have had to experience that their daily environment suddenly became a disaster area,” she says in the evening. “And I’m afraid we won’t see the full extent of the tragedy in the coming days.” Biden also extends his condolences to the victims before reporting on his meeting with Merkel. During the chancellor’s farewell visit to Washington, Biden and Merkel showed one thing above all: harmony.
Merkel calls Biden “a staunch advocate of the transatlantic alliance”. In her nearly 16-year tenure, “the friendship and cooperation between Germany and the United States has grown stronger,” the president said. He will miss his “best friend” at summits. Merkel praises back: “I thank you that the United States of America, under your leadership, dear Joe, has also shown a clear commitment to multilateralism.” She goes on to say, “We are not just allies and partners, but nations that are good friends.”
Despite agreement: differences remain
Neither Merkel nor Biden mention the name of ex-President Donald Trump. The unit on display is intended to send a signal that the serious disruptions in bilateral relations during Trump’s tenure are now a thing of the past. However, Biden also says, “Good friends can have different opinions.” The press conference also shows that this is still the case in bilateral relations:
– Nord Stream 2: The nearly completed pipeline is supposed to bring Russian natural gas through Ukraine to Germany, it is the biggest point of contention between Berlin and Washington. The hopes of a breakthrough during Merkel’s visit did not materialize. “Here we have different assessments of what this project entails,” Merkel says. She emphasizes that despite Nord Stream 2, gas transit through Ukraine must be maintained. Biden says he has again expressed his concern. But he also adds: “Chancellor Merkel and I absolutely agree in our belief that Russia should not use energy as a weapon to coerce or threaten its neighbors.”
– Travel restrictions: The EU has eased corona-related travel restrictions for people from the US. The Biden government has not responded to the step for travelers from the Schengen area, which is causing increasing discontent in Europe. Merkel brought up the subject during the meeting in the Oval Office. In any case, Biden is now announcing that he will respond specifically to this in the coming days. Talks are currently underway about how the travel restrictions could be lifted soon, he says. “I’m waiting to hear from our people on our Covid team when that should happen.”
– Vaccination campaign: The approach to the coronavirus pandemic is also a topic of discussion. “We agree that the pandemic can only be fought if everyone is vaccinated,” said the chancellor. She points out that both Germany and the US support the UN Covax vaccination program. At the press conference, neither Merkel nor Biden discussed their opposing stance on the demand to temporarily lift patent protection for vaccines. Merkel is against it, Biden has spoken out for it.
– Climate change: The flood disasters in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands gave the subject a particular urgency during Merkel’s visit. The chancellor says she is “very, very happy” that Biden has returned the US to the Paris climate protection agreement – following the withdrawal ordered by Trump. During the Chancellor’s visit, Germany and the US agree on an energy and climate partnership that will focus on expanding future-proof technologies such as hydrogen or renewable energy sources. Merkel says: “That’s an important sign.”
Afghanistan: The international military operation is coming to an end as Biden has decided to withdraw US soldiers from Afghanistan before the end of August. “Our soldiers served there together for years,” Merkel said. “You have averted terrorist threats. But, of course, we haven’t been able to build a nation the way we envision a nation.” With the Taliban advance, Biden now faces comparisons from the Vietnam War. Last week, he claimed the US didn’t go to Afghanistan. to establish a state there.In reality, this has been a stated goal of international engagement for years.
– China: Since taking office, Biden has campaigned for the allies to take the toughest course possible against China, Merkel wants to avoid confrontation. The chancellor is now speaking at the White House for greater coordination between the US and Europe in dealing with China. “We are countries that stand up for democratic, free societies,” Merkel said. “And that also means, of course, that we make clear our non-consent where human rights are not guaranteed.”
– “Washington Declaration”: Merkel and Biden sign a “Washington Declaration” reaffirming their “commitment to close bilateral cooperation to promote peace, security and prosperity around the world”. Among other things, they commit themselves to «defending open societies». Both sides will also launch a German-American Futures Forum and US-Germany business dialogue.
Biden gives another dinner in honor of the chancellor before Merkel travels back to Berlin. The menu at the White House features crispy sea bass with tagliatelle and vanilla ice cream for dessert – Biden is an outspoken ice cream lover. Before Biden and Merkel go out for dinner, the chancellor said at the joint press conference: “We are close partners. I want it to remain that way after my time as chancellor.” The world will certainly continue to be full of challenges in the future. “Thanks for being able to tackle this together.”