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German minister in US: Nord Stream 2 dispute 'solvable'

June 24, 2021

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said he believed disagreements over Nord Stream 2 were "solvable" at the start of his trip to the US, predicting a resolution by August.

Russia's pipe-laying ship "Fortuna" is seen in the port ahead of the resumption of Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline construction, in Wismar, Germany. Archive image from January 2021.
The US recently softened its sanctions stance on the contentious pipeline at Germany's behestImage: Dmitrij Leltschuk/Sputnik/dpa/picture alliance

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on his arrival in Washington ahead of talks with Biden administration officials that he was "optimistic" that renewed US-Germany diplomacy would bring "solutions" by August.

In an interview with German public radio station Deutschlandfunk, Altmaier argued that it was "too simple" to portray Germany as the sole staunch supporter of the contentious pipeline project bringing gas from Russia to northern Germany. 

"It's not about a project, it's about reaching certain goals," Altmaier said. "It's about avoiding interdependences; it's about ensuring energy delivery; it's about accounting for and considering the vital interests of Ukraine and the other neighbors of Germany and Russia."

"When all these aspects are brought together, compromise solutions are possible," said Altmaier, adding that Germany and the US were now talking intensively and directly, instead of "talking about each other" as during the Trump administration. 

Peter Altmaier, pictured near his government jet, before takeoff bound for the US. June 23, 2021.
Economy Minister Altmaier, whose portfolio is more focused on businesses and trade than that of the finance minister, departed for Washington on WednesdayImage: Andreas Hoenig/picture alliance/dpa

US and Blinken still skeptical of 'Russian geopolitical project'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during his visit to Berlin on Wednesday: "We continue to believe that the pipeline is ultimately a Russian geopolitical project that threatens European energy security and potentially undermines the security of Ukraine and other countries in the region."

Eastern European countries in particular have reservations about the project, which threatens the transit fees they receive for gas transported across their territory.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said a planned visit by Chancellor Angela Merkel to the United States in July would be a suitable moment to clarify issues.

Merkel, nearing the end of her four-term chancellorship, held bilateral talks with President Biden earlier this month at the G7 summit in Britain. 

"We're all agreed that we want this issue resolved by August," said Altmaier, who was also scheduled to meet US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as controversial as ever

Climate talks and Kerry meeting also on agenda

Referring to Trump era punitive import tariffs imposed on European steelin 2018, Altmaier said coordinated trans-Atlantic strategies were needed.

The US and Europe as advocates of climate-neutrality need to coordinate so that their "key sectors such as steel and chemicals" did not relocate to other countries "where the environmental rules are laxer and less climate-friendly."

"That lies in the interests of both the Europeans and the Americans," Altmaier argued.

Altmaier was scheduled to meet US President Joe Biden's climate envoy John Kerry Thursday.

Yet during a parliamentary Bundestag debate, opposition Greens economics expert Katharina Dröge accused Altmaier of hindering climate neutrality efforts.

"Time and again, at the European level, he has blocked sustainable trade policies and strong climate and social standards in trade agreements," Dröge said.

ipj/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)