President Joe Biden is expected to welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House on Thursday on what is expected to be her last visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the country’s leader.
The veteran German leader is expected to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, China and Nord Stream 2, a Russian gas pipeline that Washington opposes on Thursday. She will meet with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other senior US officials.
Some officials in Washington are wondering what will be the next step for Germany after Merkel resigns, and what that might mean for US-German relations.
Merkel’s party leads the polls ahead of the September 26 election in Germany, but Green environmentalists and center-left Social Democrats are also vying to lead a future government. Although the three parties differ in many policy areas, all are committed to a strong transatlantic relationship.
Biden is expected to raise concerns about the pipeline project when the two leaders speak privately, but the White House did not expect any sort of official announcement following the leaders’ interview, senior says. administration official Biden who informed reporters in advance. of the chancellor’s visit.
Merkel has sought this week to tone down expectations of an impending breakthrough, but she will likely want to resolve the issue before stepping down.
While German officials have been shy about what will be discussed during the trip, Merkel’s spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that China will be mentioned.
Germany has close trade ties with China, but has also criticized Beijing’s human rights record. Merkel is keen to avoid a situation in which Germany, or the European Union, might be forced to choose sides between China and the United States.
Merkel insisted on the need to cooperate with China on global issues such as tackling climate change and tackling the coronavirus pandemic, even as Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump accused Beijing of triggering it .
Humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders urged Biden on Wednesday to lean on Merkel to drop her opposition to proposals to suspend vaccine patents. Merkel, a scientist by training, argued that the lifting of patents would not be effective and could harm future research and development efforts.
Ahead of his visit, a group of Democratic lawmakers this week called on Germany to lift its “blockade” of a COVID-19-related intellectual property rights waiver under global trade rules. Such a waiver, according to lawmakers, would help increase the 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 expect the differences to be resolved during Merkel’s visit.
And while there are points of tension, Biden seems eager to say goodbye to Merkel. Harris will host Merkel for a working breakfast at her residence on the grounds of the US Naval Observatory. After afternoon meetings with Biden and his team at the White House and a joint press conference, the president plans to host a small dinner in honor of Merkel and her husband, chemist Joachim Sauer.
Merkel will also receive an honorary doctorate, her 18th, from Johns Hopkins University and is expected to speak at the university’s School of Advanced International Studies.
The venerable German Chancellor, who has dealt with four US presidents during her tenure, plans to step down after the September elections after 16 years in office.
Merkel’s interactions with US presidents have often been memorable, if not embarrassing at times: from an impromptu nudge by George W. Bush in 2006 to the announcement to Barack Obama that “spying on friends is not acceptable” after reports later in the year that the US National Security Agency tapped German government phones, including Merkel’s.
Then there was Merkel’s first visit to Trump’s White House in 2017, which produced a notoriously awkward moment in the Oval Office: Photographers shouted “handshake!” and Merkel quietly asked former President Donald Trump “Would you like to have a handshake?” There was no response from Trump, who looked straight ahead with clasped hands.
They eventually shook hands several times over the following years.
As vice president, Biden had a relationship with Merkel during Obama’s presidency, but the two were never particularly close. But Merkel forged a solid working relationship with her former boss, former President Obama, who seemed to gain personal warmth over time. Obama even awarded Merkel the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in 2011.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.