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Germany’s Angela Merkel Making ‘Farewell’ Visit to White House

July 15, 2021 by Dan McCue
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, July 14, 2021. Merkel will be carrying a bag full of issues to discuss with President Joe Biden when she arrives at the White House. (Annegret Hilse/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House this afternoon for what is likely to be her last official visit.

During the visit, the veteran German leader is expected to discuss a full range of issues with the president, Vice President Kamala Harris and other senior U.S. officials,  including countering the threat of climate change, ending the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing security and regional challenges, and shoring up democracy around the world.

“In part, this is a farewell visit. In part, she is signaling continuity and stability in the German-U.S. relationship,” said Johannes Thimm, a senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a think tank in Berlin, in an interview with the Associated Press.

The president and Merkel will hold a joint press conference Thursday afternoon in the East Room of the White House and then, in the evening, the president and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will host the chancellor and Professor Dr. Joachim Sauer for dinner in the State Dining Room. 

After 16 years of dealing with Merkel, many officials in Washington and elsewhere are wondering what course Germany might take after the next election. The longtime chancellor — who has dealt with four U.S. presidents in her time — will seek to reassure them that there won’t be a huge shift, Thimm said.

Merkel’s party is leading in polls ahead of Germany’s Sept. 26 election, but the environmentalist Greens and the center-left Social Democrats are also vying to lead a future government. While the three parties differ in many policy areas, all are committed to a strong trans-Atlantic relationship.

One thorny issue that the president and Merkel are expected to discuss privately today is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that will allow for the transport of natural gas from Russia to Germany.

The United States has long held that the project will threaten European energy security by increasing the continent’s reliance on Russian gas and allowing Russia to exert political pressure on vulnerable Eastern and Central European nations. 

President Biden waived potential sanctions against German entities involved in the project, but he is nevertheless expected to raise concerns about the pipeline today.

Merkel sought this week to dampen expectations for an imminent breakthrough, but she is likely to want to resolve the issue before leaving office. “It weighs on German-U.S. relations and German-EU relations,” Thimm said.

Reporters and others will also be watching for any shift in Merkel’s position on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders urged Biden on Wednesday to press Merkel to drop her opposition to proposals for suspending vaccine patents. 

Merkel, a scientist by profession, has argued that lifting the patents wouldn’t be effective and could harm future research and development efforts. 

Ahead of her visit, a group of Democratic lawmakers this week called on Germany to drop its “blockade” of a COVID-19-related waiver of intellectual property rights under global trade rules. 

Such a waiver, the lawmakers argued, would help scale production of effective vaccines around the world.

The Biden administration has expressed support for the waiver being discussed at the World Trade Organization, but White House officials do not anticipate differences being resolved during Merkel’s visit. 

In addition to her activities in Washington, Merkel will also receive an honorary doctorate, her 18th, on this trip, the latest coming from Johns Hopkins University , where she is slated to speak at the university’s School of Advanced International Studies.

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