Merkel to emphasise multilateral priorities on final Washington visit

German chancellor and Biden to discuss Afghanistan, Taliban and hacker attacks

  ShutDownDC activists float a banner with helium balloons calling on German chancellor Angela Merkel to endorse the waiver for intellectual property rights around the Covid-19 vaccine outside the White House in Washington, DC. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

ShutDownDC activists float a banner with helium balloons calling on German chancellor Angela Merkel to endorse the waiver for intellectual property rights around the Covid-19 vaccine outside the White House in Washington, DC. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

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German chancellor Angela Merkel will emphasise the indispensability of transatlantic relations and welcome the US return to multilateralism when she meets US president Joe Biden on Thursday.

On her final trip to Washington, when there will be a White House dinner in her honour, the four-term chancellor will deliver an address and receive an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University.

Dr Merkel is the first European leader to be invited to the Biden White House and the two politicians will continue conversations from their recent G7 meeting in Cornwall that the chancellor described as “very good, constructive and very lively”.

Berlin insists this is a working visit, not a sentimental journey, but one senior Merkel aide conceded the visit’s symbolic value: consigning to the past the tensions, insults and sulks of the Trump years.

“We’ve had fits and starts the last years in the bilateral relationship and often the focus was on issues of disagreement,” said a senior German official.

Defence freeloader

Dr Merkel was cool in welcoming Mr Trump’s election in 2016, offering him a conditional “close co-operation” on the basis of their countries’ shared values: respect for democracy, freedom, the rule of law and human dignity.

Mr Trump singled out Germany as a defence freeloader for not meeting Nato’s spending targets and, in 2019, his administration imposed sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the Russian-German Nordstream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

Mr Biden, who has known Dr Merkel since his vice-president days, said after Cornwall that the US-German bilateral relationship was “stronger than ever before”.

A major focus of talks will be the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, and advance of the Taliban, even before the final withdrawal of Nato troops. Germany pulled out earlier this month while the United States is likely to end its mission by August 31st.

The two leaders will also discuss the rise in so-called hacker and ransomware attacks, which have hit six European countries in recent weeks, many of which security agencies have traced back to Russian-linked hacker collectives.

Germany’s most recent attack has seen an entire county in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt locked out of its computer system, similar to an attack that has shut down the New Orleans city administration. The German parliament computer network, and even Dr Merkel’s office, have been penetrated by computer hackers in recent years. 

Last Friday, Mr Biden warned President Vladimir Putin of Russia that time was running out to reign in ransom attacks, which encrypt data until payment is made to those responsible.

Disagreements

Other priorities in the talks will be climate and pandemic-related economic emergency measures, as well as disagreements on vaccine patents. 

On Nordstream 2, the Biden administration has issued a waiver on sanctions against construction firms. Amid protest and growing pressure from the US Senate, however, the president hopes for greater movement from Berlin on safeguards for Ukraine and Poland.

Those countries have protested that the new pipeline bypasses existing gas routes via their country, will deprive them of lucrative transit fees and leave their energy markets more exposed to Russian politics. Washington and Berlin have signalled their readiness to strike a deal before the pipeline is finished in August.

At Johns Hopkins University, a centre of Covid-19 pandemic research, Dr Merkel, a trained physicist, will be honoured as a “doctor of humane letters” for “bringing a scientist’s rigour to policy and a deep humanity to politics”.

President Ronald J Daniels, in remarks released before the event, said: “She has defended the values of open discourse, freedom of inquiry, and human flourishing that lie at the heart of democratic society and its institutions, including research universities like ours.”

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