Biden, Scholz to ‘get into the weeds’ on Ukraine war, China concerns in Washington

BERLIN/WASHINGTON – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will hold confidential talks on Friday in Washington with US President Joe Biden about Russia’s war in Ukraine, China and other matters amid signs of strains between the transatlantic partners.

Mr. Scholz set off on the one-day trip, which unusually will not include a press delegation, late on Thursday. His visit comes days after Biden‘s security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that Biden only sent Abrams tanks to Ukraine because Scholz made it a pre-condition for sending German Leopards.

Mr. Biden‘s decision came against his military’s advice, Mr. Sullivan told US broadcaster ABC. Berlin has insisted that Mr. Biden came to see it was necessary and so the decision was consensual.

The two men are due to meet for an hour, including a significant “one-on-one component,” a senior US official said, adding that it would give them a chance to “exchange notes” on their respective recent meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the state of the war, now in its second year.

“Both of the leaders wanted this to be a working-level meeting, wanted it to be very much a get down into the weeds, focused on the issues of Ukraine,” the official said.

Mr. Scholz‘s visit comes as the United States sounds out close allies about the possibility of imposing sanctions on China if Beijing provides military support to Russia for its war in Ukraine, according to four US officials and other sources.

Neither Washington nor Berlin says they have seen evidence of Beijing’s providing weapons to Moscow, but US officials say they are monitoring the situation closely.

Germany, which has typically taken a much less hawkish stance on China, its top trading partner, than the United States, has suggested China could play a role in bringing about peace – a prospect many China observers view with skepticism.

The US official underscored close coordination between Berlin and Washington, and welcomed Mr. Scholz‘s speech to parliament on Thursday, in which he urged China not to provide weapons to Moscow and asked Beijing to exert pressure on Russia to pull back its forces.

“US policymakers have a chronic concern that industrial European powerhouses like Germany will allow their commercial interests in China to temper their willingness to take tough positions on security and geopolitical issues,” said Daniel Russel, who served as the top US diplomat for East Asia under President Barack Obama and is now with the Asia Society.

“The Biden administration will use the Scholz visit to try to shift Germany’s balance in the direction of stronger pushback.”

“OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE STOCK”

The White House said last month that Mr. Scholz‘s visit was an opportunity to “reaffirm the deep bonds of friendship between the United States and our NATO ally Germany.”

Mr. Scholz and Mr. Biden would discuss ongoing support for Ukraine, the upcoming NATO summit, and cooperation on the challenges posed by China and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, US officials said.

Last month, a vast delegation of US officials including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended an annual security gathering in Munich, with many praising Germany for its support of Ukraine, which required an overhaul of its approach to defense and foreign policy.

“The setting is not a sign of crisis. It is an opportunity to deepen the personal relationship between both leaders,” said Sudha David-Wilp, head of the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund think tank.

“Washington is still looking to Berlin as the lead military power in Europe. It is an opportunity to take stock,” Ms. David-Wilp said.

US officials say Mr. Scholz could well raise concerns about US subsidies for climate-friendly technologies under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which Germany argues could put its companies at a disadvantage and contribute to luring firms away.

Critics say the IRA was a slap in the face to Europe from its biggest ally at a time when Europe was already struggling with sharply higher energy prices due to the Ukraine war.

A US-EU task force is continuing to meet on the issue, but Washington insists the tax credits will drive down costs for clean energy globally.

“The government should expressly push for fair competitive conditions in the talks,” said Peter Adrian, president of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK).

The IRA is already attracting Germany companies to the United States, a DIHK survey showed on Wednesday.

“Both sides should ensure we do not end up in a trade conflict,” the head of Germany’s BDI Industry Association Siegfried Russwurm said. – Reuters

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