5:09 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining us today on this background press call previewing the German Chancellor’s visit tomorrow.
As a reminder of the ground rules, this briefing will be on background, attributable to a “senior administration official,” and embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow, Monday, February 7th.
For your own awareness but not for reporting, the senior administration official on today’s call is [senior administration official].
[Senior administration official], I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks, after which we’ll do Q&A.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official], and thanks to everybody for joining. Delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you tonight about the Chancellor’s visit to Washington tomorrow.
President Biden is very much looking forward to welcoming Chancellor Scholz on his first visit to Washington and the White House, and sees it as a good opportunity to affirm the deep and enduring ties between the United States and Germany.
Germany is one of our closest and strongest Allies in Europe. The President and the Chancellor had the opportunity to interact last October in Rome at the G20 Summit. Scholz, at the time, was serving as Finance Minister and coalition negotiations were going on. But it was clear that he was the presumptive chancellor, which is why then-Chancellor Merkel brought him along to the meeting of the
P3 [Quad] countries, so it gave the President an opportunity to have an initial conversation with him as part of the handover from Chancellor Merkel to ensure continuity.
The President had a very early congratulatory call with Chancellor Scholz, and they have since consulted together with other European leaders a few times over the last two months since he became Chancellor.
The President is looking forward to getting to know Chancellor Scholz personally on this first official visit to Washington as head of state. And I would say that the fact he is coming here almost two months to the day from taking office illustrates the continued importance that the United States places on our bilateral relationship with Germany and the importance of this relationship between these two leaders.
The leaders have a very full agenda to discuss tomorrow. We expect them to talk significantly about the situation in Ukraine and Russia. They’ll likely discuss their shared concerns about Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border and their shared commitment to both ongoing diplomatic efforts to encourage Russia to de-escalate tensions as well as ongoing efforts to ensure deterrence to further Russian aggression.
Related to that, they will discuss our ongoing efforts to prepare a robust sanctions package that would impose severe costs if Russia further invades Ukraine.
Germany, at the start of the year, assumed the presidency of the G7, and so I expect that will be a significant part of their conversation as well, including Germany’s agenda and the way our two countries can work together with fellow G7 members to address global challenges.
Many of the things that comprise Germany’s G7 agenda are priorities for the Biden administration as well, including the importance of continued close cooperation on ending the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the threat of climate change, and promoting economic prosperity and international security based on our shared democratic values.
In addition, I expect the leaders will want to discuss their support for the Western Balkans, which is a priority region in Europe for both the United States and for Germany, and how we can continue to promote stability in the region, as well as continue to make progress on the further European integration of the Western Balkans; as well as our collective response to undemocratic moves by China and continued efforts within the transatlantic relationship, including in our bilateral relationship, on how we can work together to address China’s nonmarket economic practices and human rights abuses.
And so, just closing thought: The United States and Germany have long worked together to address the world’s most important challenges, and we see the meeting tomorrow as an opportunity to ensure the continuity of close relations between the United States and Germany, to give the two leaders an opportunity to get to know one another personally, and an opportunity for them to discuss all of the pressing global challenges that both of our countries are facing today.
So, let me stop there with opening comments and happy to turn it over to questions.
Q Hi. Hey, [senior administration official]. Thank you so much for doing this — and [senior administration official]. I wanted to ask about Nord Stream. You know, there’s been a lot of tension over that. The President has opposed that project for a long time. What role do you think Nord Stream will play in this discussion?
And if I could just follow up on the sanctions question as well — or the sanctions issue: Can you say what the German position is now about SWIFT? There’s been, kind of, a lot of back and forth. But is that a serious option for, you know, imposing costs on Russia? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much for the questions. In terms of the — to take your second question first, in terms of the German position on SWIFT, I don’t want to characterize what their government’s view is, so I would refer you to them to set out what their position is on the package of sanctions.
But certainly, what I can say is: We have been coordinating very closely with Germany — including in advance of the Chancellor’s visit and just more generally over the last number of weeks, as we have with our other European partners — on a swift and severe package of sanctions that the U.S. and Europe would both impose on Russia in the event of an invasion on Ukraine.
So, lots of conversations with Germany and very much welcome the unity that we have been seeing from our European Allies and partners on their readiness to join with us in imposing swift and severe consequences on Russia if there is further aggression.
And on Nord Stream, this, as you alluded to, is a topic that we have had numerous conversations with the German government about — with the Merkel government, as well as with the Scholz government. I would assume that it is going to be a topic of conversation between the leaders tomorrow.
And what I can say is that we have made our position very clear, which is that: If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.
Q [Senior administration official], have the Germans assured you that they are in agreement with this position?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, again, I’m not going to speak on behalf of the Germans, and we’ll let them for themselves tomorrow, and we’ll let the Chancellor speak.
But, you know, what I — what I can say is that we’ve had extensive common- — conversations with the Germans. We’re confident that the Germans share our concerns with Russian aggression, that they’re very involved in our ongoing efforts on both deterrence and diplomacy.
We have made our position very clear, as I laid out. And what I can say is that we will continue to work very closely with Germany to ensure the pipeline does not move forward.
Q Hey, thank you so much for doing this call on a Sunday. You know, I mean, the narrative that’s out there is that Germany has kind of been the outlier, in terms of the NATO nations, in not being particularly specific or aggressive in laying out the costs that they would impose.
So, I’m wondering if the White House is satisfied with the new German government’s, you know, approach so far to laying out costs if Russia were to invade and will the President be encouraging the Chancellor to play more of a leadership role in the, sort of, NATO/Western diplomatic effort to deter a Russian invasion.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for that question. And certainly recognize that — that that’s the narrative that’s been out there. You know, what I can say from the perspective of the White House is that we have been engaged very closely with our German partners, including the new German administration over the two months since they’ve taken office.
As I said earlier, we’ve been coordinating with them very closely on the packages of sanctions that we would put into place. We’re coordinating very closely with them within NATO.
I know there’s been a lot of churn over this question about: Is Germany going to send arms? What sort of role is it playing on the security side?
And I would point out a number of things:
First, Germany, after the United States, is the second-largest donor to Ukraine and to Europe.
Second, Germany has been very supportive of the things that the United States has done militarily. Most recently, as we announced last week, supporting our ability to move a battalion from Germany into Romania to reinforce and ensure our Ally in Romania, our Allies in the eastern flank are feeling a sufficient reassurance and deterrence to Russia.
And third, as an overarching point, the beauty of having an alliance with 30 NATO Allies is that different Allies step up to take different approaches to different parts of the problem.
So really, across the board, we have continued to work in close cooperation with Germany on the sanctions front. Germany, as I said, has been a significant donor to Ukraine, including doing a lot on the humanitarian assistance side of things, and, finally, has facilitated a lot of what we have been able to do in terms of our own military deployments of an additional number of troops that are heading out to Germany as part of our “assure and deter mission,” as well as enabling us to get a striker squadron of 1,000 service members very quickly to Romania, because they were already based in the theater in Europe, and specifically in Germany.
And so, I really think, across the board, Germany continues to be an important member of the transatlantic Alliance, with all of us working together to address different parts of the same problem.
Q Hi, thanks. I guess I would ask to see if you could expand on that a little bit. And, you know, we’re seeing more public and more strident pronouncements of the — of a looming invasion — some of the stuff in the last day or so. And I’m wondering: Do you expect that you’ll share — the meeting will share intelligence to kind of help Germany see, maybe, closer to the view of the U.S. of the dangers? And do you, kind of, see — I know that there’s consensus on some level but not on others, do you — are you sensing a coalescing a little bit more of the views between the U.S. and the German government? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. So, I absolutely think that our countries are unified in terms of awareness of the risk of further Russian aggression to Ukraine.
We have been, for a long time, sharing intelligence with Germany, with the rest of our Allies. We are engaged in very regular conversations — both by the White House, the State Department, our embassy in Berlin, our other agencies — on the situation. And I think there is absolutely — absolute agreement that if there is further Russian aggression that there’s a number of things that need to be done — in terms of deployment of additional troops to the eastern flank, and to the imposition of a large package of economic sanctions.
And Germany has been completely on board with the statements that have come out of the European Council meeting, the European Foreign Affairs Council on this. There was a statement that came out by G7 Foreign Ministers a number of weeks ago, and NATO has spoken to this as well.
So, I’m absolutely confident that Germany shares our concerns over Russian aggression, shares our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
We’re continuing to work closely with them and the EU on what this package of severe economic sanctions would look like.
And equally, we are both committed to trying to make diplomacy work. One of the things I should have mentioned in talking about the comparative advantage a few minutes ago is that Germany has also played a very significant diplomatic role through its leadership, along France, in the Normandy Format. And those meetings have continued both at foreign minister level and at national security advisor level by the French and Germans in recent weeks, with more engagement expected in the coming week.
So, certainly, across the board on all of these things, I think there is very much unity of purpose and agreement on the need to be able to respond either diplomatically or in terms of sanctions and deterrence, depending on which path Putin chooses.
Q Thanks so much for doing this call. You said that if Russia invades, you know, one way or another Nord Stream 2 won’t happen. Are there also conversations underway about how to block Nord Stream from becoming operational if Russia does not invade in the next few months and if, you know, it makes its way through the German regulatory process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I — you know, I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals. I — certainly, everybody hopes that that Russia does not invade, and then that’s going to be a question that — that we’re going to have to deal with.
I mean, the one thing that I will point out is that there is not currently any gas flowing through the pipeline. And there won’t be any gas for months, in part because of the diplomacy that the United States has been able to do on this issue with Germany.
The — Germany’s Federal Network Agency, as you know, has suspended the certification process of Nord Stream 2. So, the pipeline is not currently operational and no gas is expected to flow through that pipeline anytime soon.
And as you noted, there are steps that need to be taken by the German regulatory agency. There’s also steps that need to be taken by the EU regulatory agency. So, you know, more broadly, our position remains what it has been, which is that we’ve — we’ve always been opposed to Nord Stream 2. The President has made this — this clear for several years now, which he views as a Russian geopolitical project that undermines the energy security and national security of a significant part of the Euro-Atlantic community.
We engaged in significant diplomacy with the Germans last summer, leading to agreement on a joint statement that sets out a number of things that we intend to do to ensure that Russia does not use energy as a weapon.
You know, so I’ve spoken to what our position is now — if there is Russian aggression against Ukraine — in terms of ensuring that one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.
If we are in the happy situation where there is not a Russian invasion and we are able to move along the diplomatic path, we will continue to engage in conversations with Germany and our European partners about this issue more broadly.
Q Hi, [senior administration official]. Thank you so much for doing this.
I know that you’ve answered several questions on Nord Stream; I was just hoping to try to put a finer point on it as well. Over the summer when Chancellor Scholz’s predecessor visited with President Biden, there was an announcement about an agreement that the U.S. and Germany had reached about the operationality of Nord Stream 2, and I’m wondering if that agreement still holds up under the new administration and if you could detail exactly what that agreement is.
And second, in the statement between the U.S. and the EU a couple of weeks ago, it said that tomorrow would also see a meeting of the U.S.-EU Energy Council. And I’m wondering if you could detail a little bit more about whether that meeting is still taking place and what it is.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, that meeting on the U.S.-EU Energy Council is being chaired by the State Department along with the EU, so I would refer you to the State Department to be able to get more information on that. This is something that had been set up a number of years ago, which provides an opportunity for the United States and the European Union to come together at the level of Secretary of State here in the United States, as well as the Energy Secretary, with their counterparts on the EU side.
Obviously, lots to talk about and — in general terms and with energy issues, with our shared commitment to addressing climate change. And in the current context, I would expect that Ukraine is going to be a significant part of that discussion as well.
In terms of the statement, this was agreed, as you said, between the Biden administration and the Merkel administration. It was published on July 21st. And I just pulled it up on my computer here as we were talking, and the joint statement is actually on the State Department website, so you can take a look at that and read it in full, and it outlines the commitments that our two governments made.
This is certainly something that we continue to view as an operative agreement that — that holds. We are continuing to have conversations about this agreement with the new Scholz administration, and they are continuing to implement the agreement.
There’s a number of things that are included in here in terms of, you know, commitments that they have made to address energy security issues, to abide by the spirit and letter of the Third Energy Package with respect to Nord Stream 2, you know, including climate change, to setting up a new climate and energy partnership, to German commitments to establish and administer a Green Fund for Europe, as well as the readiness of both of our countries to take a number of steps in response to — I’m looking at — sorry — “…to ensure the U.S. and the EU remain prepared, including with appropriate tools and mechanisms to respond together to Russian aggression, malign activities, including Russian efforts to use energy as a weapon. Should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine, Germany will take action at the national level and press for effective measures at the European level, including sanctions to limit Russian export capabilities…This commitment is designed to ensure that Russia will not misuse any pipeline, including Nord Stream 2, to achieve aggressive political ends by using energy as a weapon.”
So, sorry for the lengthy quotation from that. You can see the entire document on the website.
But yes, we very much still see this as an operational agreement. We see it as something that the Scholz administration remains bound by, even though it was negotiated by his predecessor. Scholz, of course, was part of that government as Vice Chancellor. And we continue to discuss with the German government the implementation of the provisions, including in this joint agreement.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you all. Again, this is all the time — that is all of the questions we have time for. I appreciate you joining the call.
As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a “senior administration official,” and is embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning, Monday, February 7th — February 7th.
Thank you, and I hope everyone has a wonderful day.
5:31 P.M. EST