Russian gas pipeline upset US charm offensive in Germany

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Foreign Minister Antony Blinken will board his plane at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, to fly to Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Schönefeld on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. Blinken begins a week-long trip to Europe to Germany, France and Italy. (AP photo / Andrew Harnik, pool)

AP

The U.S. and Germany struggled to settle a major dispute over a Russian gas pipeline on Wednesday amid the Biden administration’s efforts to improve tense relations with Western Europe during Donald Trump’s presidency.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his German counterpart Heiko Maas met in Berlin and praised the depth and strength of American-German relations. And neither Blinken nor Maas could offer a timetable for a possible solution.

“We don’t always agree and one of those areas where there is disagreement is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which we continue to believe poses a threat to European energy security,” said Blinken. “Germany has a different perspective and that happens over time. We will resolve our differences of opinion and at the same time advance the many areas in which we work very closely together.”

The US believes that the pipeline will not only increase the continent’s dependence on Russian gas, but will also be an instrument for Russia to exert political pressure on vulnerable Eastern and Central European countries. As such, despite the steps taken by the Biden government to cool the dispute, the project continues to be a major irritant for American-German relations.

In a joint press conference with Blinken, Maas said that Germany is well aware of the US’s concerns and is trying to address them.

“We are participating in these discussions,” he said. “We are aware of the expectations from Washington and it is of the utmost importance.”

Maas said Germany is also speaking to Ukraine and other countries bypassed by the pipeline to guarantee them an alternative energy supply.

“There are a number of ways and means and approaches that we discuss, but we do not discuss them in public,” said Maas.

Ideally, a solution could be reached if the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Biden in Washington next month. Maas emphasized, however, that timing is only worth striving for.

Despite US opposition and sharp objections from Poland and Ukraine, Merkel supports the project, which was one of the most important initiatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin to increase Russia’s energy revenues.

The pipeline has also met strong bipartisan opposition in U.S. Congress, where both Republican and Democratic lawmakers harshly criticized the government for imposing sanctions on the German company that built it, the company’s German CEO, and several other executives in May had waived. Critics saw these sanctions as a last-ditch effort to prevent completion of the pipeline, which is now more than 95% built.

With the lifting of the sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG and the executives, the White House rejected recommendations from the State Department and other authorities in favor of the imposition of the sentences, according to officials and congressional aides. Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan argued that the sanctions would do more harm than good in restoring ties with Germany.

Blinken is on his second visit to Europe within seven days in Germany, having just accompanied President Joe Biden to the summit meetings of the heads of state and government in Great Britain and Belgium. During his meeting with Maas, Blinken emphasized the message “America is back”, which Biden had also conveyed last week.

Maas welcomed the promise, which Blinken will probably pass on to Merkel at a later meeting. He said Biden’s visit, coupled with Blinken’s return to Europe so quickly, “underlined impressively that America is back: back on the multilateral and international stage, and we are very pleased about that.”

Biden government officials insist there are still ways to mitigate the effects of the pipeline. They say that even after the project is physically completed, there are still permits, insurance and test hurdles in place before it can go live. Some officials believe the opening could be delayed by nine to twelve months.

After Germany, Blinken will visit France and Italy as part of his week-long tour, his first trips to all three nations as Foreign Minister.



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