German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Washington on Wednesday for what will in all likelihood be her last official visit to the US before her almost 16-year term in office ends after the September federal election.
Although the Merkel era is coming to an end, the trip is being seen as marking a new beginning in German-US relations following the tensions between Berlin and Washington under the administration of Donald Trump.
However, although new US President Joe Biden has vowed to steer his country away from the far more unilateral “America First” course of his predecessor, he and Merkel will still have some thorny bilateral issues to discuss.
Merkel has visited the US more than 20 times during her tenure, but this will be her first White House reception in three years. She will also be the first European leader to visit it during the Biden administration.
What is likely to be on the agenda?
A particularly delicate issue is likely to be that of the nearly completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is to bring Russian gas to Germany. Washington has long opposed the project, saying it could undermine Europe’s energy security by making it too dependent on Russia.
Biden, too, has spoken out against the pipeline both as president and as vice president under Barack Obama, though his administration has waived US sanctions on the company behind the project.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is already in the US, told reporters there that Berlin and Washington had “come closer” on many points regarding the issue. But he said it remained to be seen whether differences could be settled once and for all during the chancellor’s visit.
Merkel and Biden are also expected to discuss differences in their two countries’ approaches to dealing with China, US penalty tariffs on some German goods and ongoing coronavirus restrictions on travelers from Europe wanting to enter the US.
The EU dropped its restrictions on travelers from the US in June, if they can demonstrate either that they have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID.
The two leaders may also talk about Biden’s proposition for intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines to be dropped to allow them to be shared with the developing world, a measure on which Germany has been reticent.
According to US government sources, the two leaders will also talk about the “threat of climate change, and promoting economic prosperity and international security based on our shared democratic values.”
What is Merkel’s schedule in the US?
Merkel is slated to meet with US Vice President Kamala Harris at a breakfast on Thursday where they will “exchange thoughts across the spectrum of [German-US] relations,” according to Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert.
Following that meeting, the chancellor will meet with US business representatives before going on to be presented with an honorary doctorate by the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. There, she is also to give a speech.
In the afternoon, she will be received by Biden at the White House for talks with him and various delegations before attending a dinner in her honor at the presidential residence. Both US first lady Jill Biden and Merkel’s husband, Joachim Sauer, are also expected to participate in the occasion.
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