Merkel Says Biden Took Step Closer to Germany on Nord Stream

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the decision by U.S. President Joe Biden to drop some sanctions against the disputed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

The U.S., as well as nations like Ukraine and Poland, oppose the Gazprom PJSC-backed link between Russia and Germany as they’re concerned the Kremlin’s leverage over Europe will increase once the almost-completed pipeline is operational.

The Biden administration said Wednesday that Nord Stream 2 and its chief executive Matthias Warnig are engaged in sanctionable activity under U.S. law but that it will waive penalties for national security reasons and stopping the project is now a long shot.

“Of course President Biden has moved a bit into our direction in the context of the Nord Stream 2 conflict,” Merkel told public broadcaster WDR on Thursday, while making clear that Germany and the U.S. continue to have different views.

Merkel Says Biden Took Step Closer to Germany on Nord Stream

Her backing for the pipeline was echoed by two of the candidates running to succeed her after September’s national election. Both CDU Chairman Armin Laschet, who is running for Merkel’s conservative alliance, and Social Democrat Finance Minister Olaf Scholz dismissed the U.S. concerns.

Greens’ candidate Annalena Baerbock, whose party has replaced Merkel’s bloc as the strongest force in some recent polls, reiterated her opposition to the project and said it puts Ukraine’s security at risk by bypassing the country. Scholz countered saying it’s the government’s ongoing responsibility to ensure that Ukraine remains involved in gas transit.

Merkel said that she will talk to Biden about the issue on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall next month. She left open, however, what Germany will offer the Biden administration in return.

“Partnerships consist in considering the other side’s point of view and to find compromises,” she said. “You only talk about deals once they have been finalized.”

Construction of the pipeline began in 2018 and it became a major source of friction between the U.S. and its European allies, particularly Germany, during former President Donald Trump’s administration. Biden has essentially taken the same position as Trump: that the project undermines European security by tying the continent more closely to Moscow.

In Germany, the perception is that Biden has given up the fight on this not only because he didn’t want to jeopardize relations with Berlin but also because he needs German support against China.

The U.S. decision to waive some Nord Stream 2 sanctions “is a constructive step,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday. Germany will continue the talks with the U.S. “as constructively as possible” to try and alleviate concerns over the project, he told reporters.

Four vessels were sanctioned by the U.S. in the latest round of penalties over the pipeline, along with entities including the Russian government-owned Marine Rescue Service.

The 1,230-kilometer (764-mile) pipeline will help Germany secure a relatively low-cost supply of gas amid falling European production. It’s also part of Gazprom’s decades-long effort to diversify its export options to Europe as the region moves away from nuclear energy and coal.

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