World Insights: Blinken’s reconciliatory Europe trip solves no major disputes

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by Ren Ke

BERLIN, March 25 (Xinhua) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday wrapped up a three-day visit to Brussels, which was meant for a new chapter of transatlantic relations after four years of tensions under the former Donald Trump administration. However, differences remain.

Despite pledging revitalization of bilateral ties, the two sides failed to resolve some major disputes, like the future of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project that aims to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany directly.

U.S. ATTEMPT TO AMEND TIES

Blinken’s visit to Europe was his first since taking office in January. He attended a NATO foreign ministers’ two-day meeting in Brussels, and met European Union (EU) officials and his counterparts from the member states.

The U.S. top diplomat underlined the importance of the cooperation between allies, calling the U.S. relations with NATO and the EU crucial.

“I came here,” he said, “with one particular focus in mind, and that was to make clear the United States’ determination to revitalize our alliances and partnerships.”

“This will open a new chapter in the relationship between North America and Europe, and it is a perfect platform to set the direction for the future of our alliance,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a press conference on Tuesday.

At their meeting, NATO foreign ministers discussed issues ranging from Russia, Afghanistan to NATO’s 2030 agenda, and also prepared for a summit scheduled later this year, which Biden is expected to attend.

Blinken’s vision marked a U-turn on the previous administration’s stance that NATO was outdated and divided, as well as its clash with EU capitals over taxes, trade and defense spending.

Since taking office, the Biden administration has pledged to revitalize transatlantic relations. As the first U.S. president to do so, Biden in February attended the virtual Munich Security Conference. “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back,” he said.

DIFFERENCES REMAIN

During this maiden visit to Brussels, however, the U.S. top diplomat failed to sidestep some of Washington’s major disputes with its allies.

At a joint press conference with Stoltenberg on Tuesday, Blinken openly criticized the Nord Stream 2 project, echoing similar policy of the Trump administration.

“President Biden has been very clear, he believes the pipeline is a bad idea; it’s bad for Europe, bad for the United States. Ultimately, it is in contradiction to the EU’s own security goals,” Blinken said, responding to a German journalist.

The pipeline “has the potential to undermine the interests of Ukraine, Poland, a number of other close partners or allies,” he added, referring to “a law in the United States which requires us to sanction companies participating in the efforts to complete the pipeline.”

Blinken discussed the issue with his German counterpart Heiko Maas face-to-face on Tuesday night. Later, the German Foreign Office tweeted that the two politicians had a very good exchange of views, without mentioning Nord Stream 2, while the U.S. State Department said Blinken emphasized during the meeting Washington’s opposition to the pipeline.

The soon-to-be-completed Nord Stream 2 is designed to transport natural gas through the Baltic Sea. The 1,230-km pipeline is expected to deliver 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year.

Washington criticized the project for making Europe too dependent on the Russian energy, and made it clear that it wants to sell liquified shale gas to Europe. It has imposed sanctions on some European companies taking part in the pipeline’s construction. Germany, however, has said that it will not intervene in the completion of the project.

WHAT IS UNCHANGED

“Biden also remains tough,” read the title of a commentary published by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday.

“The new President Biden has repeatedly affirmed how valuable and politically important America’s alliances are. In this respect, he differs fundamentally from his predecessor, who looked at the allies like a debt collector,” it added. “However, some contentious issues survived the change of government; the American criticism of Nord Stream 2 is one of them.”

Blinken follows the foreign policy starting from the previous U.S. administrations, Finnish geopolitical analyst Markku Siira told Xinhua.

He said there was no notable change from the turbulent times of former U.S. President Trump and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Since World War II, Washington has sought to keep Russia and Germany apart, for they would be too powerful for Western hegemons if the two come together, he added.

Defense spending is another contentious issue between the United States and European countries. Washington has accused such NATO states as Germany of failing to contribute 2 percent of its gross domestic product to the military alliance. Germany said it was committed to this goal, but it could not reach it before 2024.

Blinken said Wednesday that this goal remained “crucial,” but softened Washington’s approach by acknowledging that the allies could “shoulder their share of the burden in different ways.”

“The EU keeps following Washington’s dictates, even though it will undermine European interests,” Siira said. “The Atlanticist current is still quite strong in the European countries.” Enditem

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