Washington. There should be no goodbye question. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden will receive Angela Merkel on an “official working visit” that underscores the deep ties between the United States and Germany. She explicitly spoke of a “future-oriented” meeting that should identify areas for increased cooperation “in the coming months and years”.
This seems very ambitious. After all, the counselor’s 16-year term ends in the fall. Above all, however, the friendly declaration contrasts sharply with the gurgling of Donald Trump, whose travels to Washington during his tenure by Merkel were no fun. She met the former president twice, in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, I traveled to Boston to receive an honorary doctorate from the liberal elite of Harvard University.
Much will be different when the chancellor takes off on her last official trip to the United States on Wednesday. Biden and Merkel have known and valued each other for a long time. At the same time, reports of rising numbers of COVID-19 infections narrow the framework of the confrontation. The program has not yet been completed. However, it seems unlikely that Merkel will spontaneously leave her hotel on Wednesday night after landing, as she did in 2018, to go to Georgetown for a cheeseburger. You’re supposed to give a speech Thursday morning. Then the official meeting with Biden is scheduled. As a sign of special solidarity, the president apparently plans to invite his guest to dinner at the White House in the evening.
“The United States has no better partner, no better friend than Germany,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in Berlin less than three weeks ago. Such tones have not been heard in the past four years. However, experts see no reason for German complacency. “The Biden government is concerned with the results,” Jeff Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, warned in a recent podcast: “Restoring transatlantic understanding is not an end in itself. It is a step on the way to achieving their ambitious goals.”
Biden’s Pacific Priorities
At the top of the president’s list of plans – also in light of his country’s recent experiences – is the promotion of liberal democracy in competition with authoritarian regimes. This includes a tough stance on China. Before Merkel, Biden received Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. This is evidenced by its regional priorities. The increasingly massive hacker attacks on the US economy are also putting pressure on US relations with Russia.
With the temporary exemption from sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Biden sent a friendly signal to Germany and caused major problems with both parties in Congress. A concession is now expected from Berlin in Washington. Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, who is close to the chancellor, announced this recently during his visit to the USA. Compensation for Ukraine’s loss of importance as an energy transit country is under discussion. According to Berlin’s will, the pipeline should not under any circumstances overshadow the summit.
Otherwise, it should be a matter of combating climate change, defense policy, and the coronavirus pandemic. There are certainly atmospheric differences in the last point. In view of the delta variable, Merkel continues to rely on extreme caution. She doesn’t take journalists on her plane and wants as few audiences as possible in Washington. On the other hand, Biden announced the return of the United States to normal on July 4. His message is that those vaccinated can live as they did before the virus appeared.