Biden to waive Trump -era sanctions on Russia’s pipeline operator

The U.S. has waived sanctions on the company that operates the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, a senior Biden administration official said, a change in tactics that eliminates a potential explosion in the dispute between Washington and Berlin.

“I am determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of sanctions,” U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken said Wednesday, referring to Nord Stream 2 AG, the company that manages the project, as also chief executive Matthias Warnig and corporate officers of the company.

Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister, saluted a “construction step” showing that the U.S. “considers the really very good relationship we have built with the Biden administration”.

Nord Stream 2 will carry Russian gas directly across the Baltic Sea, passing through Ukraine. Warnig, an officer with intelligence services to the East German Stasi, is a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. state department sends a regular 90-day report to Congress listing the entities involved in the pipeline to be penalized. Included on the list are Russian ships laying the pipeline, but the company in charge of construction has been released.

The U.S. waiver was shown to be “taking a step towards us”, Maas said. “It’s an expression of the fact that Germany is an important partner for the U.S., one that it can rely on in the future.”

Nord Stream 2 is just “the issue [Germany and the US] there are fundamental differences about “, and the hope of both countries is that the project” will no longer avoid really good cooperation [between us] in any way whatever ”, he added.

U.S. President Joe Biden has repeatedly criticized Nord Stream 2, describing it as a “bad deal for Europe”. The U.S. has said the pipeline to be taken from Kyiv will benefit gas transit fees and make it more vulnerable to Kremlin pressure. U.S. officials also said it would also increase Europe’s reliance on Russia’s energy imports.

“Our opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is unshakable,” Blinken said, despite granting the waiver.

A senior state department official on Wednesday said “stop it [project] always a high shot ”.

“Our actions today show that we continue to oppose the pipeline project, but we are also aware of the president’s commitment to building relations with our allies and partners in Europe,” the official added.

Blinken spoke with Maas on Tuesday, and a state department spokesman said he “values ​​the U.S. commitment to work with allies and equals to counter Russia’s efforts to undermine our collective security”. “In that vein, [he] given importance to US opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, ”the spokesperson said.

But the decision to waive sanctions shows Washington is unwilling to risk a damaging conflict over the project with one of its closest allies. Germany supported the pipeline, saying it was an important pillar of its energy security, and condemned U.S. extraterritorial sanctions against the project, calling them inappropriate interference in its internal activities.

News of the exemption was met with frustration on Capitol Hill, where opposition to Nord Stream 2 was one of the few issues agreed upon by Democrats and Republicans.

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Bob Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, issued a statement saying he was opposed to the Biden administration’s decision to waive sanctions and he failed to see how the decision would push U.S. efforts. to counter Russia’s invasion of Europe.

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican, said the waiver will show the U.S. government has no plans to stop the project. “If the Putin regime is allowed to end this pipeline, it is because the Biden administration has chosen to make it happen,” he said.

“Two months ago, President Biden called Putin a‘ murderer, ’but now he plans to give Putin, his regime, and his cronies a lot of strategic leverage in Europe,” Ben Sasse said, a Republican senator from Nebraska.

The waiver is only valid for the next 90 days. But Germany is confident it will give the two countries time to overcome the remaining differences in Nord Stream 2.

Maas said the U.S. and Germany should now use the remaining time until the next 90-day report to address the “more problematic aspects of the project”, especially the way it “leaves a sense of risk. in Ukraine “.

“We have been together for three months now. . . to talk to Washington officials about how we will proceed and how our two governments can agree on the different positions held in Washington and Berlin on the issue, ”he said.

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