Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Official Working Visit of Chancellor Merkel of Germany
(July 14, 2021)
2:53 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Hi, everyone, and thanks for joining this afternoon. Today’s call will be embargoed until 5:00 a.m. tomorrow, July 15, and the contents will be attributed to a “senior administration official.” With that, I will turn it over to our speaker, [senior administration official]. Over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official]. And hi, everybody. Thanks for joining this afternoon.
Tomorrow, as you know, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be at the White House for an official working visit, which we very much see as one that will affirm the deep and enduring bilateral ties between our two countries. This is very much a forward-looking visit which will address our robust partnership on shared global challenges. And as we look forward, we’ll be looking for ways to continue strengthening cooperation between our countries in the months and years ahead.
It’s also fair to say that, over the course of her long and distinguished tenure, Chancellor Merkel has been a true friend to the United States, a strong advocate for the transatlantic partnership, for multilateral cooperation, as well as for our shared priorities. In their meeting, I expect that President Biden will convey gratitude for her leadership role in Europe and around the world as she prepares to depart the German political stage following their elections this September.
In terms of the schedule: In the morning, Vice President Harris will host Chancellor Angela Merkel for a working breakfast at the Vice President’s Residence. Then in the afternoon at the White House, the President and Chancellor Merkel will have a one-on-one meeting, an expanded bilateral meeting, followed by a press conference.
And in the evening, President Biden will host Chancellor Merkel for a small dinner with a range of individuals who have long been strong supporters of Germany and the bilateral relationship, which will further demonstrate the close and continuing ties between our countries.
In terms of what is on the agenda in their bilateral meeting, as I said, this is very much a working visit and we expect them to discuss the full range of policy issues in our bilateral relationship.
They’ll address the threat of climate change, including the need for progress between the Leaders’ Meeting this spring and COP26 in Glasgow this fall.
I expect them to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, including their shared desire to provide access to vaccines around the world, and to shore up global health security.
I expect that they will discuss the full range of shared security challenges, including Afghanistan, Libya, and the Sahel.
I expect the leaders also will discuss shared ways to respond to regional challenges, including addressing Russian cyberattacks and territorial aggression; countering China’s rising influence, non-market economic practices, and human rights abuses, including forced labor; support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and also bolstering the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Western Balkan countries.
And then, finally, their commitment to shoring up democracy at home and defending human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law around the world.
To make a few general points on the bilateral relationship, Germany is one of our staunchest allies. That relationship has long been built on shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, and rule of law. There is also extensive cultural and economic ties between our countries.
As I think you all know, the Biden administration has an overarching goal of revitalizing the transatlantic relationship, which includes increasing cooperation with NATO and raising the level of ambition with the EU — two goals that I think the President was able to make good progress on during his trip to Europe last month, where, of course, he had the opportunity to engage with Chancellor Merkel on the margins of the G7 in Cornwall, as well as their shared participation in the NATO Summit. And our relationship with Germany, of course, is a very important foundation for all of that.
On the economic side: Germany is our largest trading partner in Europe, and the U.S. is Germany’s largest export market. We’re also a major source of foreign investment in each other’s economies.
On the security side, the U.S. cooperates closely with Germany in NATO to ensure the prosperity and security of citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. Germany has approximately 36,000 active duty U.S. service members, with President Biden announcing earlier this year the additional deployment of 500 troops, as well as halting the planned withdrawal by the previous administration of U.S. forces from Germany.
Germany is also an essential hub for training, operations, and logistics for U.S. and Allied forces operating in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Our troops served together, of course, in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. We also cooperate in the counter-ISIS campaign, with both U.S. and German troops on the ground in Iraq as part of the NATO training mission.
And as I mentioned earlier, we also, of course, have close cultural and people-to-people ties.
Finally, I want to touch briefly on the deliverables that you can expect to see coming out on Thursday: We’re expecting the two leaders to release the Washington Declaration, which will outline their common vision for cooperation to confront policy challenges.
So this document is likely to lay out the broad principles and values that are shaping our relationship and that we believe are going to be guiding principles for the relationship in the months and years ahead as we continue to confront the shared challenges that we both face in terms of our shared commitment to democratic principles, values, and institutions, and human rights; common dedication to upholding the international rules-based order and an open world without spheres of influence; our joint efforts to build strong and equitable market economies that cultivate resilience and demonstrate that democratic leadership delivers for the world; and, of course, the importance of transatlantic cooperation.
We’re also working on developing other initiatives that will solidify areas of our bilateral relationship that we can continue to strengthen and develop in the years ahead, including a Futures Forum, which will bring together Germans and Americans from a wide range of sectors to be able to analyze and propose solutions to global problems going forward.
Our two governments will also look at developing an economic dialogue to further strengthen this part of our bilateral relationship, and we’ll also look at launching a climate and energy partnership, which will enable us to work together to address climate change, transformational energy technologies, and support for energy transitions in emerging economies.
So, looking very much forward to the Chancellor being here tomorrow, expect a very robust discussion between the two leaders on the full range of policy priorities, and are looking forward to releasing and announcing deliverables that are very much focused on strengthening and continuing to deepen the bilateral ties between our countries as well as our peoples.
So, let me stop there and take some questions.
Q Hi. Hi, [senior administration official]. Everyone, thanks for doing this call. I’m going to try to squeeze in two if it’s possible. First, on Nord Stream: Do you anticipate any breakthroughs with Chancellor Merkel or her team on the Nord Stream issue? And if not, could we anticipate any consequences with regard to the Biden administration’s position on that? Or does the administration sort of bite its tongue, for lack of a better expression, and wait to work with Merkel’s successor and pick up these discussions? So if you could talk about how that will work.
And then, if I could just throw in a really Wall Street Journal-ly question: The U.S. Commerce Department, last week, released a redacted report regarding the Trump administration’s auto tariffs, and this was something that made Germany very, very nervous. We don’t have a lot of information on that, and I’m wondering if that issue is going to come up and whether or not auto tariffs are even remotely on the table with this administration. Anything you can give us on that would be awesome. Thank you so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, to take your second question first, I’m not personally tracking the Commerce report, so would defer on that to my press colleagues if there’s anything they want to follow up and share on, on that specific issue.
On the Nord Stream issue, as you know, we’ve been engaging for a while now with the German government at multiple levels on our concerns about Nord Stream 2. This has included engagement by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, by the Secretary of State in their conversations with the German government.
I do expect that President Biden will raise his longstanding concerns with Chancellor Merkel during their meeting about Russia’s geopolitical project and about the importance of developing concrete mechanisms to ensure that energy is not used as a coercive tool against Ukraine, our Eastern Flank allies, or any other country.
We believe that the sanctions waivers that we announced in May have given us diplomatic space to be able to work with Germany, to have these conversations, to try and find ways to address the negative impacts of the pipeline. Our teams have been discussing these concerns. I expect that they will continue discussing these concerns.
We are not anticipating any sort of formal announcement or deliverable coming out of the leaders’ meetings tomorrow on Nord Stream. But like I said, the teams have been having very productive conversations on this set of issues and expect that those will continue.
Q Hi, [senior administration officials]. Thank you so much for doing this call. I wanted to, I guess, ask you on — just a quick follow-up on Nord Stream, and then I have another question.
On Nord Stream, German officials have said they expect this to be resolved in August. You know, there have been some hints that it could come sooner than that. Can you — since we’re on background here, can you — or maybe even just off the record — can you say why you weren’t able to figure this out before this visit? It seems like, you know, that that’s usually a big goal.
And then I have a separate question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Go ahead with your separate question.
Q Okay. So the second question has to do with another point of contention, which is the German position on the WTO waiver. There have been protests, balloons, big banners all over D.C. There’s been protests in other cities. Do you — I know that the President is a strong proponent of the waiver, but do you anticipate this factoring into the discussion? Or do you think it will just be the, sort of, like, “We agree to disagree, and let’s focus on the things we have in common”?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, I missed a part of what you said. I heard the balloons and the banners and the waiver. Which — which specific waiver?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The WTO waiver for intellectual property — right? — that is being considered at the WTO.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Sorry, is this the — sorry, the TRIPS waiver or is this a different —
Q Yeah. Yeah, yeah. TRIPS waiver.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Lots of — lots of protests, so I just wanted to ensure I was — I was tracking the right question.
Look, I, you know — I take your point on the Nord Stream discussions. I mean, like I said, our teams have been having very robust conversations on this. You know, I think there’s –there’s a lot of aspects that we want to work through. There’s things that we want to discuss in terms of the energy components of this, the impact that it has potentially on Eastern Flank allies, on Ukraine, and really believe that that the waivers that we were able to use in in this case have provided the space for this.
And so I wouldn’t read too much into the timing of this. I think it’s something that we’ve continued to have good discussions on. I think you’re — you know, the August timeframe I think people are tracking on is when the next report by the State Department is due to Congress. But I think we’re not anticipating having anything to announce that at this visit in particular, but do believe that we are having very productive conversations with the German government. And we’ll continue having those conversations with them in the days ahead.
On the TRIPS waiver, you know, I think the President has been very clear about his position on a waiver. He supports it, given the extraordinary circumstances that call for extraordinary measures. And we’re encouraged that our announcement in May has encouraged other countries to be able to put additional proposals and ideas on the table.
I think, at the same time, we know that a waiver alone won’t result in the scale and the speed that we need to make enough vaccines to end the pandemic. And that’s why we’re continuing to ramp up our own efforts, including with the private sector, to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution around the world.
And I think that this broad goal is very much one that President Biden and Chancellor Merkel share in terms of their joint commitment to COVAX, the contributions that the United States, that Germany, the EU, and other countries made at the G7 — and do expect that they will continue to have conversations about how we can ensure the widest distribution of vaccines on a very rapid timeframe to a number of countries around the world as the best and most effective way of ultimately ending the pandemic.
Q Thank you. Another Nord Stream-related question: After tomorrow, President Biden will have met with the main Nord Stream 2 proponents — President Putin and Chancellor Merkel — but not with the main opponents — President Zelensky of Ukraine. I was just wondering, what is the thinking on sequencing and not meeting with Zelensky first? And Zelensky (inaudible) his White House meeting would be taking place in July after the invitation was extended. Is that meeting still planned to happen in July?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I — so thank you for the question. You know, I think there has been a lot of engagement at different levels of the U.S. government not only with Germany, but also with Ukraine. The President did have a phone call with President Zelensky right before his trip to Europe before he met with President Putin. They were able to discuss the situation of Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine, also an opportunity to discuss Nord Stream and some of those broader issues.
So the President did actually have conversations with Zelensky before he went to Europe, before he saw Merkel on the margins of the G7, and before he met with President Putin there as well. When — and Chancellor Merkel, it’s worth flagging, has also been engaging with President Zelensky who was in Berlin earlier this week. And so we very much support the conversations that the Germans and the Ukrainians are having directly about Ukraine’s concerns about Nord Stream and stuff that the Germans might be prepared to take in response to that.
When the President spoke with President Zelensky earlier this summer, he invited him to visit Washington this summer. We never specified what month that was going to take place and are still anticipating a visit by President Zelensky to the White House this summer, but don’t have a date to announce at this time.
Q Hey. Hello, thank you for doing this. So I have question — earlier you said the meeting is going to also talk about the challenges coming out from China. And China remains to be Germany’s biggest trade partner in 2020. I know Biden administration has, you know, proposed about the supply chain (inaudible) by forced labor, human rights abuse, protect intellectual property. However, with that such big amount of trade partnership between China and Germany, how can President Biden convince Chancellor Merkel to work with the United States to face the challenge from China? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I thank you very much for the question. I — like I said, I think China very much is going to be part of the agenda between the two leaders tomorrow.
It’s frankly been something that we have been actively discussing with our European allies over the first six months of the administration. And I think we really saw the fruits of that diplomatic engagement during the President’s trip to Europe last month, where there was signs of increasing convergence among our allies in — and partners at the G7.
For example, President Biden, Chancellor Merkel agreed with other leaders on the importance of responding to China’s non-market practices, the need to speak out against human rights abuses. The communiqué coming out of the G7 also addressed the need for action against forced labor practices.
At the NATO Summit, there was agreement, for the first time ever, on the security challenge from China, including plans to include China in the new strategic concepts that allies are going to be working on over the next year.
And then at the U.S.-EU summit, leaders launched the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, which will enable us to deal with a wide range of issues — including emerging technologies, competition policies — and very much expect that dealing with China’s non-market practices, economic abuses, et cetera will be part of those conversations.
I think we’ve consistently been very clear that we need to engage China from a position of strength, which includes our alliances and partnerships. And Germany, of course, is one of our closest alliances. And frankly, we think, to your specific question on economics, that it actually makes economic sense for us to work together.
The U.S.-EU trade and investment relationship is the largest in the world. As I noted, the U.S. and German relationship is also very significant. And we think that we’re going to be much more effective in terms of harnessing the power of that transatlantic relationship, that bilateral relationship to set the global rules of the road on issues that we care about.
Q Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everyone. That concludes our call. Reminder that this is on background, attributed to an “SAO.” And the contents of this call are embargoed until tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m.
Have a good afternoon.
3:15 P.M. EDT