Chancellor in Washington: Scholz with Biden in the White House: Very best friends?

There is something mysterious about this trip to Washington.

Chancellor in Washington: Scholz with Biden in the White House: Very best friends?

There is something mysterious about this trip to Washington. The brand new government plane "Konrad Adenauer" is pretty empty when it took off from Berlin in the early evening yesterday towards the US capital.

As usual, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has his closest employees from the Chancellery with him and, of course, his security forces. Journalists, usually around 25, are not allowed to come this time - very unusual for such an important travel destination. Business people aren't there either. So the chancellor wants to be left alone.

At the airport in Washington, Scholz was received by the chief of protocol, the US diplomat Rufus Gifford. This is called a silent arrival. Nothing official is planned for the evening. Scholz only has one official appointment on this trip: a private conversation with US President Joe Biden today in the White House - without the usual press conference afterwards. There will only be pictures of the two from the beginning of the conversation in the Oval Office, the President's study.

Biden avoided Berlin last week

It's a very confidential visit where it's pretty clear beforehand that not much will be known of the results afterwards. Main topic: The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. There is a lot to talk about. How is the supply of arms and ammunition to Ukraine going? How do you deal with the increasing demands for negotiations? What security guarantees can be given to Ukraine in the long term? And how to sanction China if it supplies arms to Russia?

Actually, the conversation could have taken place last week when Biden visited Ukraine and Poland. However, the US President only made a short stopover at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Rhineland-Palatinate. Scholz has to wait for Biden's first visit to Berlin since he was sworn in a good two years ago.

Conversely, the chancellor is now in Washington for the second time in the 15 months since he took office. After his arrival, he emphasizes today that relations between Germany and the USA are better than they have been for many years. "I think that's important in these times when we are challenged by Russia's terrible war of aggression against Ukraine," he says. The basis for this is trust, which arises from talking to each other again and again. "That's exactly what we do."

Scholz praises "very good cooperation" with Biden

At the start of the meeting, Scholz assured Ukraine of continued support in the defensive struggle. The joint support of Ukraine in the past year was very important, Scholz said at a brief press meeting at the beginning of the conversation today in the White House. "Now it is very important to send the message that we will continue this for as long as necessary."

Scholz also emphasized how good he thinks relations with the USA are. "I really appreciate the very good working relationship between the two of us," he told Biden in English. This also applies to the cooperation between the governments in the USA, Germany and Europe.

Biden thanked Scholz for his leadership in dealing with Russia's war of aggression. "I want to thank you for your strong and consistent leadership. I mean that sincerely. It's made a huge difference," Biden said at a brief press briefing before the meeting.

Brothers in spirit: Unspectacular, level-headed, result-oriented

For Scholz, it's not just a visit to his most powerful ally, but also to a political friend whom he sees as a brother in spirit. When Scholz talks about Biden, he almost goes into raptures. There is no one on the international stage whose political style suits him as well as the 80-year-old US President: unspectacular, but also calm, level-headed and, above all, results-oriented.

In dealing with the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Biden has become something of a leading figure for Scholz. When the chancellor says he doesn't want to go it alone in supplying arms, what he means above all is: Not without the Americans. This was the case with the delivery of multiple rocket launchers, with the Patriot air defense systems and with the armored personnel carriers. With the main battle tanks, however, things did not go so smoothly and amicably.

Message from Biden adviser before visit

At the end of January, Scholz and Biden announced almost synchronously that Germany would deliver Leopard 2 and the USA their Abrams to Ukraine. The US President thanked the Chancellor for his "strong leadership" and "unwavering commitment" to Ukraine. But even then there were reports that Scholz had made the delivery of the Abrams a condition of his Leopard commitment. The chancellor's office denied that. Biden, whose defense ministry had previously classified the deployment of Abrams in Ukraine as impractical, asserted that he had not been "forced" to agree.

But shortly before the Chancellor's visit to the White House, Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke up in a television interview with the surprising statement that such a tie had existed after all. In the interests of "alliance unity" and "to ensure Ukraine gets what it wants," Biden agreed to the long-term supply of Abrams tanks -- although they are not what Ukraine needs militarily at the moment.

The timing of Sullivan's testimony and the chosen format give the impression that the US government wanted to send a message to the addressee Scholz. It is also quite possible that they want to lower expectations for Abrams tanks - both in terms of their timely delivery and their performance on the battlefield.

Conflict issue US investment program

There is another issue that currently harbors the potential for conflict between the USA and Germany. Biden launched a multi-billion dollar US investment program last summer. It provides for investments in climate protection, but ties many subsidies and tax credits to companies using US products or producing them themselves in the USA. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is an important domestic political success for the US President.

In Berlin and Europe, however, Biden's "Made in America" ​​approach is not so well received. The concern about competitive disadvantages is great. In a government statement at the beginning of February, Scholz called for the USA to make concessions and warned of a subsidy race. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and his French colleague Bruno Le Maire campaigned in Washington at about the same time for a Europe-friendly application of the law, but returned without any concrete commitments.

Merz: Scholz "may have a problem to solve"

The opposition in Berlin is also concerned with the outcome of this trip. "None of us in parliament and in the German public knows the reason for this trip," said CDU leader Friedrich Merz to the editorial network Germany (Friday). He suspects that Scholz "may have a problem to solve", namely that with the battle tanks . There is "a whole series of contradictions. Maybe they want to talk about these contradictions".

The FDP politician Alexander Graf Lambsdorff holds against it. Such a visit "without PR fanfare" is just right at this point in time. And the alleged tank problem? Lambsdorff says that Germany has successfully asserted its influence in Washington.

CNN interview at the conclusion of the trip

Maybe at the end of the day there will be some clarification about the background of the visit. After all, Scholz did not want to leave the USA without addressing the American public. After the meeting with Biden, an interview with CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria was on the agenda. Zakaria is someone who has followed the Chancellor's course quite positively so far. He praised his reorientation of security policy, the so-called turning point, in a comment last October in the highest tones. Today's Germany is a "rock on which the new Europe is being built". The interview in English is scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday.