Merkel braces for showdown with Biden in Washington as row over Russia deal erupts

EU: Guy Verhofstadt calls to ‘reconsider’ Nord Stream 2

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The German Chancellor and US President have both stressed they want to reset ties between Berlin and Washington after the presidency of Donald Trump. But the Russian gas pipeline is expected to blight their relationship for years to come. Mrs Merkel has so far snubbed opposition from the United States and eastern Europe, who have called for the project to be halted amid fears it could isolate Ukraine.

The pipeline is set to carry vast amounts of natural gas between Russia and Germany when it is completed.

Most nations are worried that it will hand too much influence over Europe to Russia.

Veteran leader Mrs Merkel has also spent 16 years working to forge closer economic ties between Germany and China.

Mr Biden is opposed to the plans and sees Beijing as a global threat to western democracy.

The two leaders will meet at the White House on Thursday as part of Mrs Merkel’s farewell tour before she steps down as German Chancellor this autumn.

Ulrich Speck, an independent foreign policy analyst, said: “The problem for the US is that Merkel has the upper hand, because she has decided that the status quo in the trans-Atlantic relationship is good enough for Germany.

“Biden by contrast needs to win over Germany for his new China strategy.”

Officials on both sides are currently locked in intense talks over the issue of the Nord Stream 2 project.

The Biden administration in May dropped the reimposition of sanctions on firms involved in the pipeline.

Senior US sources have stressed that the President will make clear that he is still opposed to Germany’s involvement.

A senior US official told the Reuters news agency that Mr Biden dropped the sanctions to give both sides diplomatic space “to address the negative impacts of the pipeline”.

The insider added: “Our teams are continuing to discuss how we can credibly and concretely ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool to disrupt Ukraine, eastern flank allies or other states.”

Mrs Merkel has promised to protect Ukraine’s status while pressing on with the Nord Stream 2 work.

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She told a news conference yesterday: “We promised Ukraine and will keep our promise.

“It is my custom to keep my word and I believe this applies to every future chancellor.”

The pandemic is expected to be another area of contention when Mr Biden entertains Mrs Merkel in Washington.

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The two countries are at odds over a proposed waiver of intellectual property rights to ramp up coronavirus vaccine production.

The measure is backed by the White House but is given the cold shoulder by Berlin.

The United State’s refusal to ease travel restrictions on visitors from Europe will also be raised by Mrs Merkel.

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