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US, Germany seek common ground on Russia pipeline row

The Biden administration argued that it was too late to stop Nord Stream and that it was better to seek cooperation with...
Published 23 Jun, 2021 04:43pm

BERLIN: The United States and Germany promised Wednesday to work together to press Russia as they sought to move past a still raw row over the Nord Stream pipeline.

On his first visit to Berlin since taking office, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated opposition to the near-complete gas pipeline from Russia to Germany but voiced hope for a united front with Berlin on the underlying US concern -- that the project will embolden Moscow.

"Germany and the United States will keep standing together against any dangerous or provocative actions by Russia, whether that's encroaching on Ukraine's territory or imprisoning Alexei Navalny or spreading disinformation in our democracies," Blinken told reporters, referring to the jailed dissident.

President Joe Biden, who has put a priority on shoring up relations with allies in the face of Russia as well an increasingly assertive China, last month waived key sanctions on Nord Stream II, drawing criticism even from some of his allies in Washington.

The Biden administration argued that it was too late to stop Nord Stream and that it was better to seek cooperation with Germany, the most populous nation in the European Union.

"We're determined to see if we can make something positive out of a difficult situation that we inherited," Blinken said.

In talks with Germany, "our goal remains to ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool as a weapon against Ukraine or anyone else in Europe," he said.

   **- Progress eyed within months -**

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, speaking alongside Blinken, promised a prompt effort to address the US concerns.

"We know the expectations in Washington and it's extremely important to us to achieve results that Washington can work with too," Maas said.

"There's a range of possibilities and approaches that we are discussing already but not discussing in public. And of course I would like us to achieve results soon," he said.

Maas voiced hope for progress in time for Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to the White House on July 15 but said the key goal was to make decisions by August, when the Biden administration is again required by Congress to submit a report on the pipeline and sanctions.

US officials have previously voiced hope that Germany will agree to outline automatic retaliatory steps that would be triggered if Russia steps up pressure on Ukraine.

Washington also wants the continuation of transit fee payments to Ukraine, which has been battling pro-Russian separatists and sees Russian gas as a key source of leverage.

Poland and the Baltic states have also strongly opposed Nord Stream II, fearful that Russian President Vladimir Putin will gain greater power over smaller countries that broke free from Moscow's control with the end of the Cold War.

   **- Concerns on China -**

European allies have widely rejoiced at the arrival of Biden following the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump, who relished needling other nations over trade disputes and what he saw as unfair burden-sharing on defence.

Maas said that Germany was "extremely pleased" by the shift in US focus and, echoing Biden, said, "America is back".

But along with the Nord Stream dispute, the United States has been encouraging its allies to take a more critical look at China.

Blinken warned about the risks of doing business in the Xinjiang region, where Germany's iconic automaker Volkswagen operates despite the mass incarceration of the Uyghur minority -- a campaign that Washington describes as genocide.

"It's incumbent upon all of us to do whatever we can to make sure that products that may be result of forced labour are not coming into our countries," Blinken said.

Merkel, who leaves offices after elections this year, has advocated seeking to change China through trade relations.

But views have also hardened in Europe in the face of President Xi Jinping's harsh tactics. A leading candidate to succeed Merkel, Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, backs a tougher stance on human rights.

Joe Biden

US President

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