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President Biden Is Set To Meet With His German Counterpart

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting President Biden in Washington today, although certainly her last official White House visit after nearly 16 years in power. U.S.-German relations have improved since former President Trump left office, but there are still differences. And with Merkel not running in September's elections, there's hope she'll be more accommodating to Washington. Esme Nicholson has more from Berlin.

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ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Speaking in the White House Rose Garden a decade ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel told then-President Barack Obama about plans she'd made early in life.

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ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) Like others in East Germany, I dreamt about freedom for years, including the freedom to travel to America. I dreamed I'd take a trip as soon as I retired, age 60.

NICHOLSON: But after dozens of visits, it's safe to say she's checked off America from her wish list. Even so, it's been two years since Merkel was last in the U.S., when she implored Harvard graduates to fight for change.

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MERKEL: Tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.

NICHOLSON: Now Merkel is in D.C. to celebrate that change. President Biden, who is the fourth president to host the chancellor, has already made it clear that America is back on the world's stage and recommitted to multilateralism. But Biden has only a few months left to work with Europe's longest-serving leader.

NORBERT ROTTGEN: What he's going to lose is what everybody else in Germany and across Europe and in the world is going to lose.

NICHOLSON: Norbert Rottgen is chair of the Bundestag's Foreign Affairs Committee.

ROTTGEN: The European political heavyweight, which could be absolutely relied on for assuming a sensible, sober view on international relations, which is important to have in these troubled times.

NICHOLSON: But some of those troubles are between Berlin and Washington, such as Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, which the U.S. opposes. Rottgen, a member of Merkel's party, is one of the government's few critics of the pipeline, but he welcomes Biden's recent decision to waive sanctions on the project.

ROTTGEN: I consider this to be a very strong message by the president to Germany that he is foremost interested in a good relationship and does not want to extend the damage which is done by Nord Stream 2.

NICHOLSON: Cathryn Cluver Ashcroft, director of the German Council on Foreign Relations, says Merkel is well aware that most of Europe, like the U.S., sees Nord Stream 2 as a Russian geopolitical weapon. But the chancellor says it's necessary for Germany's energy needs. Cluver Ashcroft says Merkel will try to reassure the Americans.

CATHRYN CLUVER ASHCROFT: What she's hoping to do is to keep the project in check. And the question is, is that going to be enough for this American president? Or more importantly, is that going to be enough for this American Congress?

NICHOLSON: Relations with China is another issue. Merkel is viewed as having been too soft on Beijing for economic reasons. But Cluver Ashcroft says it's German business that's now waking up to reality.

CLUVER ASHCROFT: We just had the news that China will soon overtake German industrialists in their production of machines. That's one of Germany's lead industries. So the tide is turning more from the side of industry and big business in Germany than necessarily from politics.

NICHOLSON: There are also likely to be difficult discussions about intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines and about potential trade friction between the EU and the United States. Despite these differences, Merkel's farewell visit will be trumpeted as repairing the damage done to transatlantic relations under the previous U.S. administration. But her departure means Washington will still have much work to do with whomever takes over from Merkel as the next chancellor of Germany.

For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook is incorrectly referred to as Cathryn Clüver Ashcroft.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.