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AP Diplomatic Writer
The United States and Germany struggled Wednesday to resolve a major dispute over a Russian gas pipeline even as the Biden administration seeks to improve relations with Western Europe that had been strained during Donald Trump’s presi- dency.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his German counterpart Heiko Maas met in Berlin and extolled the depth and strength of U.S.- German relations, but there was no sign of progress in talks to overcome the impasse over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. And neither Bliken nor Maas could afford to offer timetable for a possible resolution.
“We don’t always agree and one of those areas of disagree- ment is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which we continue to believe is a threat to European energy security,” Blinken said. “Germany has a different per- spective and that happens from time to time. We’ll handle our disagreements while pressing ahead on the many areas where we are working very closely together.”
In addition to increasing the continent’s reliance on Russian gas, the U.S. believes the pipeline will become a tool for Russia to exert political pres- sure on vulnerable Eastern and Central European nations. As such, the project continues to be a significant irritant in U.S.- German ties despite steps by the Biden administration to cool the dispute.
Speaking alongside Blinken at a joint news conference, Maas said Germany was well aware of the U.S. concerns and was trying to address them.
“We are engaging in these talks,” he said. “We are aware of
the expectations from Washington and it is of the utmost importance.”
Maas said that Germany is also speaking with Ukraine and other countries bypassed by the pipeline with an eye toward guaranteeing them an alternate energy supply.
“There is a whole host of ways and means and approaches that we are discussing but we are not discussing them in pub- lic,” Maas said.
Ideally, he added, a resolu- tion could be reached by the time outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Biden in Washington next month. But, Maas stressed that timing was aspirational only.
Despite U.S. opposition and strident objections from Poland and Ukraine, Merkel strongly favors the project, which has been one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s key initiatives to increase Russia’s energy rev- enue.
The pipeline also faces strong bipartisan opposition in the U.S. Congress, where both Republican and Democratic lawmakers harshly criticized the administration for waiving sanctions against the German firm constructing it, the compa- ny’s German CEO and several other executives in May. Critics saw those sanctions as a last- ditch effort to prevent comple- tion of the pipeline that is now more than 95% constructed.
In waiving the sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG and the executives, the White House rejected recommendations from the State Department and other agencies in favor of imposing the penalties, according to offi- cials and congressional aides. Biden’s national security advis- er Jake Sullivan argued that the sanctions would do more harm than good in terms of repairing ties with Germany, they said.