German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Joe Biden in 2015.

CHRISTOF STACHE | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will discuss a number of pressing issues with Chancellor Angela Merkel next week on what may be her last trip to Washington after nearly 16 years at the helm of Europe’s largest economy.

The two leaders are expected to share their concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the constant drumming of cyberattacks, the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, longstanding trade problems and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

“From a German point of view, this will be a working visit,” said a high-ranking German government representative on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the Chancellor’s trip to Washington.

“Of course we have had a number of seizures in bilateral relations in recent years. The entire focus has been on issues on which we disagree,” the official said, adding that “allies were sometimes viewed as enemies”.

During his tenure, former President Donald Trump often disguised NATO allies and partners. He threatened to reduce US military support to NATO if the allies did not increase spending. In 2019, Trump highlighted Merkel for failing to meet the spending target of 2% of GDP set at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales.

At the time, Germany was only one of 19 NATO members who had not reached the spending target of 2% of GDP.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump come to the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, for a group photo on May 26, 2017.

Getty Images

“There are always problems in relationships, which is completely normal because we sometimes have different points of view, perspectives and interests and we differ in size and power, vulnerability and so on,” said the official.

“But what is important and perhaps not quite seen that way in recent years is how to actually deal with problems,” said the official.

Merkel’s visit to the White House on July 15, the third time a foreign head of state has met with Biden in Washington since he became president, takes place a few months before the general election in Germany. Merkel, the first woman at the helm of Germany, had previously announced that she would step down after the elections in September.

Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The two leaders, who have met several times during their political careers, are most likely to discuss shared concerns about the future of Afghanistan when the US and NATO coalition forces leave the country.

“We are all following what is happening,” said the high-ranking German government official, referring to breathtaking progress on the battlefield that the Taliban have made since the foreign troops began the withdrawal process.

“Whatever happens to Kabul airport will be of enormous importance,” the official said, adding that Germany is the second largest donor to Afghanistan after the US.

“We are heavily invested in Afghanistan and have been for some time,” said the official.

In April, Biden ordered the full withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, effectively ending America’s longest war. On Thursday, Biden gave an updated schedule and said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end by August 31.

“We didn’t go to Afghanistan to build a nation,” Biden said in a White House statement on Thursday. “It is up to Afghans to make decisions about the future of their country,” he added.

Soldiers from A Co., 101st Division Special Troop Battalion prepare to board a Chinook for an air strike mission Nov. 1, 2005 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

U.S. Army photo

Online Safety

Biden and Merkel are also expected to speak about an alarming number of cyberattacks that have shown the potential to reach across multiple industries and international borders.

The latest ransomware attack, announced last week by Florida-based software provider Kaseya, spread to six European countries, breaking the networks of thousands in the United States.

Ransomware attacks involve malware that encrypts files on a device or network, causing the system to become inoperable. Criminals behind such cyberattacks usually demand a ransom in exchange for the release of data.

The Russian-speaking hacker group REvil has taken responsibility for the cyber attack on Kaseya. The full scope of the ransomware attack is not yet known.

“This is a huge problem,” the official told CNBC when asked if cybersecurity was an issue that Merkel would raise with her American counterpart.

“Of course it’s being covered on other channels as you can imagine, but it’s a huge problem for all of us and we better find ways to not only deal with it, but how we can do this with countries where the attacks are taking place. can address “or where we think they are coming from,” said the official.

In May, a hacking group called DarkSide with alleged links to Russian criminals launched a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, forcing the US company to shut down a pipeline roughly 5,500 miles long. It cut fuel supplies to the east coast by nearly half, causing fuel shortages in the southeast and disruption to airlines.

Colonial Pipeline paid a $ 5 million ransom to the cyber criminals to restart operations. A few weeks after the attack, US law enforcement agencies were able to recover $ 2.3 million worth of bitcoins from the hacking group.

Less than a month after the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, Brazil’s JBS, the world’s largest meat packer, announced that it had fallen victim to a ransomware attack. The violation disrupted meat production in North America and Australia and sparked concerns about rising meat prices.

The company eventually paid a $ 11 million ransom to another Russia-based cybercriminal, but not before it temporarily ceased all US operations.

Nord Stream 2

Biden is likely to raise concerns about completing an extensive underwater pipeline that will pump Russian gas directly into Germany.

The $ 11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal comes as the Biden administration works to repair strained Berlin-Washington relations after Trump’s tenure.

In May, the US waived sanctions against Switzerland-based Nord Stream 2 AG, which operates the pipeline project, and its German CEO. The waiver gives Berlin and Washington three more months to reach an agreement on Nord Stream 2.

When completed, Nord Stream 2 will span 764 miles, making it one of the longest offshore gas pipelines in the world. Last month the Kremlin said only 100 kilometers of pipeline remained to be built.

“So there are different concerns in Eastern Europe and in the US, mainly related to the fact that Russia had energy exports as a weapon in the past,” said the high-ranking German government official.

“We saw that in relation to Georgia and we saw it in the early 2010s when half of southeast Europe froze,” the official said, adding that Berlin is aware of Russia’s history of using energy to create a political agenda to advance.

“Given the reactions in Eastern Europe, we need to do something and I believe we will be able to explore ways to alleviate concerns about perceived challenges to European energy security.”

When asked about a timetable for resolving the Nord Stream 2 problem, the official declined to provide further details.

“We’re still talking and we’re serious,” said the officer.