US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 15, 2021.

Saul Loeb | AFP| Images

President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on Thursday that they will oppose any effort by Russia to use the contentious Nord Stream pipeline as a weapon against neighboring nations such as Ukraine.

The completion of Nord Stream 2, an $11 billion gas pipeline that would run directly to Germany from Russia under the Baltic Sea, has long been a source of tension between Washington and Berlin, otherwise close NATO allies.

“While I reiterated my concerns about Nord Stream 2, Chancellor Merkel and I are absolutely united in our conviction that Russia must not be allowed to use energy as a weapon to coerce or threaten its neighbors,” Biden said. 

“My view on Nord Stream 2 has been known for some time. Good friends can disagree, but by the time I became president, it was 90% completed and imposing sanctions did not seem to make any sense,” he said.

The president waived sanctions against Swiss-based company Nord Stream 2 AG, which is running the pipeline project, and its German CEO in May. Nord Stream 2 AG is owned by the Russian state energy company Gazprom.

Biden has opposed the completion of the pipeline over concerns that it would allow Moscow to gain increased political leverage over other European nations and more control over energy reserves. 

In particular, the U.S. fears that the pipeline would threaten the security and economy of Ukraine by depriving it of crucial gas transport revenues.  

The route of a proposed new gas pipeline from Russia to Europe.

Merkel has supported the pipeline, but emphasized on Thursday that Nord Stream would not replace Ukraine’s transit pipelines for natural gas. 

“Our idea is and remains that Ukraine remains a transit country for natural gas, that Ukraine, just as any other country in the world, has the right to territorial sovereignty,” Merkel said at the joint press conference.

“We will be actively acting should Russia not respect this right of Ukraine that it has as a transit country,” Merkel said. 

Biden said he and Merkel asked their teams to examine practical measures that can be taken to determine if Europe’s energy security is “strengthened or weakened based on Russian actions.”

The pipeline was among the several global issues that the two leaders addressed at the White House on Thursday in what is likely to be Merkel’s last visit to Washington before she steps down from office. 

The two leaders also announced a climate and energy partnership, which Biden said will support energy security and the development of sustainable energy in emerging economies in Central Europe and Ukraine. 

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Biden and Merkel also signed a pact, called the Washington Declaration, which reaffirms the U.S. and Germany’s commitment to democratic principles and outlines a joint vision to address global issues guided by those values. 

“Both our nations understand the imperative of proving that democracies can deliver the needs of our people in the second quarter of the 21st century,” Biden said.  

Among the other issues that the two leaders addressed were China, climate change, security issues in Afghanistan and combating Covid-19. Biden said the U.S. is reviewing when it can lift Covid-related travel restrictions that ban most Europeans from entering the U.S., an issue that Merkel had raised prior to the joint news conference.

Merkel’s visit serves as a stark contrast to former President Donald Trump’s notorious clashes with her during his term, which contributed to the deterioration of the two nations’ relationship. 

Trump publicly called out Merkel for not meeting the 2% GDP spending goal established at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, claiming that Germany owed “vast sums of money” to the U.S. Trump also hammered Merkel on trade and moved to withdraw nearly 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany. 

In response, Merkel often pushed back on Trump’s rhetoric and criticized policy decisions such as his travel ban targeting citizens of several mainly Muslim countries. 

Biden has made it a priority to repair relationships with Germany and other European nations. Merkel is the first European leader to meet with Biden at the White House, and her visit serves as a final farewell to the U.S. as she approaches the end of a historic political career that has lasted nearly 16 years.

Merkel’s visit will end with a dinner hosted by the president and first lady Jill Biden in the State Dining Room. The dinner will be attended by Vice President Kamala Harris, second gentleman Dough Emhoff and others who are boosters for Germany’s relationship with the U.S. 

“I know that the partnership between Germany and the United States will continue to grow stronger on the foundation that you’ve helped to build,” Biden said to Merkel. 

“But on a personal note, I must tell you, I’ll miss seeing you at our summit, I truly will. So thank you again for making the journey, for a productive meeting today and for your friendship,” he said.