Visit to Washington: Scholz's second trip to Joe Biden: a lot to talk about, no time for the press

The chancellor travels – and remains silent.

Visit to Washington: Scholz's second trip to Joe Biden: a lot to talk about, no time for the press

The chancellor travels – and remains silent. Olaf Scholz, SPD, will be received by US President Joe Biden in the White House for the second time on Friday. There is a lot to talk about, especially with regard to Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine and Western support for Kiev. In the past few months, the impression of differences of opinion between the partners has repeatedly arisen, so a one-to-one discussion is certainly helpful.

At least externally, however, the Chancellor will be closed: Contrary to custom, Scholz is not taking journalists from Berlin to Washington, nor is he planning a press conference. The Chancellor wanted to use the time in the White House "as grossly as possible," said his spokesman Steffen Hebestreit as justification. However, this is not an indication of possible problems in the transatlantic relationship: "I have the feeling that the German-American relationship is very good," asserted Hebestreit.

There was a crunch between Berlin and Washington, among other things, on the subject of battle tanks for Ukraine - and just a few days ago, Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan opened scarcely healed wounds. In a television interview on Sunday, Sullivan said with surprising frankness that the United States had only promised Ukraine Abrams-type main battle tanks because otherwise Germany would not have provided Leopard 2 tanks.

The topic had caused transatlantic upsets in January. According to media reports, Scholz made it clear to Biden in a telephone call that Germany would only supply Leopard 2 tanks if the United States provided Ukraine with Abrams main battle tanks, which Washington actually considers militarily unsuitable in the Ukraine war.

Berlin denied this representation: There was never such a link, said government spokesman Hebestreit. However, the US side was anything but enthusiastic that it appeared publicly that they were being put under pressure by Germany.

Sullivan now sounded like Biden had pushed a stubborn partner in the right direction. "The Germans have told the President that they are not ready to send these Leopards into battle (...) until the President agrees to send Abrams," Biden's top national security adviser told ABC. "The President said, 'Okay, I'm going to be the leader of the free world. I'm going to send Abrams in the future if you send Leopards now.'"

The tank dispute should also be an issue at the meeting between Scholz and Biden. The US government will make clear its "dissatisfaction" with the German approach, says Jörn Fleck of the think tank Atlantic Council. In principle, however, both governments are largely in line with the "significant support for Ukraine". "Both understand that there is no alternative to supporting Ukraine. At the same time, both are cautious - too cautious, in the eyes of some - of a possible escalation with Russia."

Jeffrey Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) in Washington, says the tank dispute has shown that differences between the US and Germany "can be bridged, but that in some cases it can only be done at the highest level." "This gives the meeting between Scholz and Biden increased significance."

Fleck says lessons learned from the Panzer dispute could help prevent similar conflicts in the future. Because close coordination between Berlin and Washington in the Ukraine war will continue to be of the utmost importance for the foreseeable future, for example in the implementation of tank deliveries, other weapons aid, the question of a possible future delivery of combat aircraft and in dealing with China, which in plays an increasingly important role in the war.

"For this White House, most roads to Europe lead through Berlin," says Fleck. "For Scholz and his chancellorship, all paths of support for Ukraine lead through Washington."