Joe Biden said he would be ready “within the next several days” to say when the US might lift its Covid-related travel ban on European countries after being pressed on the matter by Angela Merkel.
“It’s in process now. And I’ll be able to answer that question to you within the next several days,” Biden said at a press conference with Merkel, who is on her final visit to Washington as German chancellor.
“I’m waiting to hear from our folks in our Covid team as to when that should be done. And the chancellor did raise it.”
The US president’s comments raised hopes of a timeline for ending pandemic-era restrictions on travel between America and European countries within the Schengen area, which have been in place since the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
But US officials have resisted lifting the travel ban and Merkel acknowledged that the spread of the Delta variant was “a new challenge to both of us”.
“Before such a decision, one has to reflect, and it has to be a sustainable decision. It is certainly not sensible to have to take it back after only a few days. So I . . . have every confidence in the American Covid team,” Merkel said.
Biden and Merkel said they also discussed the contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would transport Russian gas to Europe.
The German-backed pipeline, which is nearly complete, would allow Russia to bypass Ukraine when sending gas to Europe. Critics say it will increase Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and leave Ukraine more vulnerable to Kremlin pressure.
On Thursday, Merkel said she and Biden had reached “different assessments”. “Our idea is and remains that Ukraine remains a transit country for natural gas, and that Ukraine just as any other country in the world has a right to territorial sovereignty.”
Biden said that “good friends can disagree”, and that he and Merkel had discussed “practical measures” that Berlin and Washington could take together.
The two leaders also talked about a common approach to China, although there has been a marked difference on the issue. While Biden has pressed for European support for a tougher approach towards Beijing, the German political establishment has been wary of being dragged into a new cold war.
Although Merkel has consistently stressed the need for partnership with China, on Thursday she said there was “a lot of common understanding that China in many areas is our competitor, and trade with China needs to rest on the assumption that we have a level playing field so that we all . . . play by the same rules”.