On farewell visit to US, Merkel brings message of stability

President Joe Biden welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House for what is likely to be her last official visit and one to which she’s bringing a bag full of issues and an overarching message for Berlin’s close ally: You’ve got a friend.
The veteran German leader is expected today [Macau time] to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, the rise of China and a Russian gas pipeline that Washington opposes. She will meet with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other senior U.S. officials.
“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.
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 sour note that preceded and outlasted the Trump era of diplomatic discord with Washington has been the thorny issue of a new pipeline taking natural gas from Russia to Germany.
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.
While German officials have been unusually coy about which topics will be discussed during the trip, Merkel’s spokesperson confirmed that China will come up.
“That can be said with relative certainty,” Steffen Seibert told reporters. “This also played an important role at the G-7 summit, where the chancellor and the American president last met.”
Germany has strong trade ties with China but has also been critical of 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 has insisted on the need to cooperate with China on global issues such as combating climate change and tackling the coronavirus pandemic, even while Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump was accusing Beijing of having started it. Frank Jordans & Alexandra Jaffe, Washington, MDT/AP

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