Wednesday June 23, 2021
US Secretary of State visits Maas
Nord Stream 2 continues to spoil the mood
Foreign Minister Maas is annoyed: The ongoing dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline dominates US Foreign Minister Blinken’s visit to Berlin. But unlike in the Trump era, the signs are now at least towards understanding. The US is interested in guarantees for Ukraine.
Germany and the USA want to settle the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas route as soon as possible and thus remove the last brake on the restart of their relations. Foreign ministers Antony Blinken and Heiko Maas unanimously emphasized after a meeting in Berlin that the main concern was the protection of Ukraine. “Our goal is to ensure that Russia does not use energy as a means of coercion, as a weapon against Ukraine or anyone else in Europe,” emphasized Blinken.
Maas said they wanted to “very quickly” come to results that the United States could support. As a possible date for an agreement, he named Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to US President Joe Biden in the White House on July 15. If this cannot be maintained, “acceptable results for all sides” should be achieved by August.
German-American relations were at a low point under US President Donald Trump. Trump treated Germany primarily as a competitor rather than an ally. Hardly an international meeting went by without a rant about insufficient German defense spending or the German trade surplus. Shortly before he was voted out of office, Trump decided to punish Germany by withdrawing US troops.
Negotiations on guarantees for Ukraine
Biden reversed this decision at the beginning of his term of office. In other respects, too, things are going well in German-American relations – with one exception: the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany is the last major disruptive factor in the return to harmony. The new US administration also fears that Europe is too dependent on Russian gas. Blinken made this clear again in his conversation with Maas.
But there is also movement here now. In May, Biden waived sanctions against the operating company and justified this with regard to relations with Germany. In doing so, he pushed the door wide open to a settlement of the longstanding dispute among allies. Discussions have been ongoing since then about how to proceed.
In essence, it is about how Ukraine can secure long-term billions in revenue from Russian gas transit. There is no longer any question of the US wanting to stop the pipeline. Blinken pointed out in Berlin that the two tubes through the Baltic Sea were already more than 90 percent complete when his government came into office. “That was the reality,” he said. “We now want to see if we can make something positive out of the difficult situation that we have inherited.”
Altmaier starts his trip to the USA
Blinken is already the third high-ranking representative of the Biden government after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and climate officer John Kerry to be seen in Berlin. Shortly after his arrival, a German government aircraft took off in the opposite direction: Minister of Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier, the first cabinet member since Biden took office, made his way to Washington to hold talks, particularly on trade and climate protection. “The new American government has an outstretched hand, we should take that hand,” he said before his departure.
However, this trip will not be entirely free of conflict either. Only recently, the EU and the US agreed to suspend punitive tariffs on products such as airplanes, wine and ketchup by 2026. This should make it possible to calmly resolve the dispute over state aid for the US aircraft manufacturer Boeing and its European rival Airbus. However, other issues remain, such as the special tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum under Trump. Regarding Nord Stream 2, Altmaier said: “We are also discussing this question among friends. Our aim is not to allow ourselves to be divided.”
In the meantime, especially on the German side, people are increasingly annoyed that Nord Stream 2 is still spoiling the good atmosphere between Germany and the USA. At the press conference of Maas and Blinken in the Foreign Office, two out of four questions were asked about this controversial topic. Maas began the answer to the second question with the sentence: “We could probably save the whole world, and it will always only be about Nord Stream 2”.