WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Thursday for what is expected to be her last trip to Washington before she retires from office later this year.
The two leaders met for nearly an hour in the Oval Office and discussed a number of items including the threat of climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccine property rights, Afghanistan, as well as cyberattacks and aggressive behavior by China and Russia.
During a press conference following their meeting, Biden said he and Merkel also discussed the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has been a source of tension between the U.S. and Germany. Biden is opposed to the major Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline out of concern that it will empower Russia, while Merkel has argued that it is a commercial matter that should not be subject to geopolitics.
"While I reiterated my concerns about Nord Stream to Chancellor Merkel, we are absolutely united in our conviction that Russia must not be allowed to use energy as a weapon to coerce or threaten its neighbors," Biden said.
Biden has sought to strengthen ties with global allies after former President Donald Trump's "America First" approach to foreign policy frayed a number of relationships, including ties between the U.S. and Germany. Trump frequently clashed with Merkel, accusing her of being "captive to Russia."
Merkel's visit marked Biden's first in-person meeting with a European leader at the White House since taking office.
Both Biden and Merkel emphasized the closeness of their relationship on Thursday.
Biden recognized Merkel for her "groundbreaking" career and said that "on a personal note, I'll miss seeing you at our summits." Merkel said she and Biden "are not only partners, but we are very close friends."
Merkel is expected to leave office this year, stepping down from a position she’s held since 2005, spanning four U.S. presidents.
Biden said that Merkel brought up the ongoing Covid-related travel restrictions that ban most Europeans from entering the United States. The president said he invited in the head of his coronavirus task force to discuss the issue and would be able to provide a clearer timeline "within the next seven days."
The two leaders also released the Washington Declaration, a formal statement outlining "their commitment to close bilateral cooperation in promoting peace, security, and prosperity around the world." They also announced a new initiative called Futures Forum which they said would bring together German and American experts from academia, business and civil society sectors to work to analyze and propose solutions to global problems.
Biden and Merkel each opened their remarks at the press conference addressing the heavy floods in western Europe that have killed dozens of people, including at least 40 Germans.
Earlier Thursday, Merkel received an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. She also ate breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris at the vice president's residence. Cheese soufflé and freshly baked sourdough bread were on the menu.
Biden and the first lady are hosting Merkel and her husband, Joachim Sauer, for dinner at the White House. Former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will also attend, along with number of administration officials.
When asked by a reporter when he would visit Germany, Biden responded: "Soon, I hope."