BERLIN: US President Joe Biden hosts German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington on Friday for talks on charting the way ahead in their support for Ukraine, after friction over tank deliveries to Kyiv.
Scholz’s first trip to Washington since February 2022 offers the leaders the opportunity to demonstrate their resolve in backing Ukraine against Russia.
But the talks will likely delve into thorny issues dividing the two, including Germany’s fears over Washington’s green subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act, and US caution over Berlin’s continued strong economic ties with Beijing.
“I think the two of them are now more concerned about the way ahead – what will the next months in Ukraine look like? What does that mean for the support that the allies can organise for Ukraine?” said Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.
They will “certainly discuss one or two other topics”, he said, but added that he did not wish to mention them.
In an address to parliament on the eve of the meeting, Scholz said the two countries’ partnership was “closer and more trusting than ever”.
As the war in Ukraine entered its second year, Scholz also offered a hint at the ongoing ruminations among allies.
“We are speaking with Kyiv and other partners over future security guarantees for Ukraine,” he told the Bundestag.
But the chancellor’s visit also comes after a period of tensions, namely over the delivery of modern battle tanks sought by officials in Kyiv, which was finally agreed to at the end of January.
In an extraordinary admission of the friction between the two of the biggest armaments suppliers to Ukraine, US national security advisor Jake Sullivan told broadcaster ABC News on Sunday that Germany had said no Leopard tanks would be sent “until the president also agreed to send Abrams”.
Biden relented “in the interests of (NATO) alliance unity and to ensure that Ukraine got what it wanted”, Sullivan said.
The German government has insisted that the two sides took their time to develop a “common approach” to weapons deliveries.
During their meeting on Friday, the Biden administration would “make clear its dissatisfaction with having been put on the spot by Scholz during the January debate over Leopard-Abrams deliveries,” predicted Jorn Fleck of the Atlantic Council.
At the same time, the saga showed that “the divisions between the US and Germany can be bridged, but that doing so is possible only at the highest levels in certain cases”, said former US diplomat Jeffrey Rathke.
“Therefore, the importance of this meeting between Scholz and Biden is heightened,” added Rathke, who is also president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Since Biden’s arrival in the Oval Office, the United States’ relationship with Germany has seen its ups and downs.
On Friday, the two leaders would likely also tackle issues surrounding relations with China. Germany’s huge economic ties with the Asian superpower put it in a delicate position.
Tensions have flared between Beijing and Washington over Chinese balloons being shot down over the United States and economic competition in key technologies such as semiconductors.
The meeting would also be a chance to send a “clear and persuasive signal to China” over its relationship with Russia, Rathke said, with both sides warning Beijing against sending arms to Moscow.
Nonetheless, Berlin would be “especially sensitive to the potential fall-out of more overt Chinese aid to Russia’s war effort”, said Fleck.
At the same time, Scholz will also bring his concerns over what Berlin and the EU view as unfair green subsidies under the US “Inflation Reduction Act”.
The debate over the programme is “a test for the transatlantic relationship”, said the influential BDI German industrial lobby.
Scholz needed to push for “improvements” to the programme to avoid EU companies being disadvantaged, and to ward off a trade war between the two, the influential German industrial lobby BDI said ahead of his trip.