- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2019

BERLINGermany doesn’t spend enough on defense. Germany is foolishly clinging to a bad nuclear deal with Iran. Germany is putting European energy security at risk by working with Russia on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

The long list of Trump administration grievances loomed large in the background as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived here Friday to make up for a much-anticipated meeting with German leaders, a visit that he had abruptly postponed earlier this month amid soaring tensions with Iran.

But even as they bristle at President Trump’s criticisms, German officials say Mr. Pompeo’s visit offers a chance for the two allies to show solidarity when it comes to the bigger picture, a picture that increasingly depicts China — not Russia or Iran — as the biggest threat on the horizon for both sides.

“There is so much talk about what divides us, but we need to emphasize what keeps us together,” said Peter Beyer, a member of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, who also serves as coordinator of transatlantic cooperation in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.

Mr. Beyer told The Washington Times in an interview that “Chancellor Merkel will push to ask the secretary of state, ‘Where are we in terms of positioning ourselves together against China?’”

“Europeans and Americans need to see this as a fight that can only be won if both sides stand together,” he added.

Trump administration officials say they’re still weighing whether they trust Germany’s resolve on the matter.

China’s growing push for economic and political influence in Europe took a big step forward in March when Italy signed on to Beijing’s controversial One Belt One Road infrastructure financing initiative, the first major EU power to do so.

While Mr. Beyer said Germany would never make such a move, U.S. officials are wary. Berlin already failed to stand up against Chinese companies — most notably telecom giant Huawei, a global leader in 5G technology that Washington fears is an intelligence risk and a stalking horse for Beijing’s Communist government.

Mr. Pompeo told reporters traveling with him to Germany Thursday night that the issue of Huawei, and Chinese technology and security issues more broadly, would factor heavily into his discussion with the Germans on Friday, as well as with other European officials throughout the weekend.

“Everywhere I go, we talk about the opportunities and challenges that China presents not only to the United States and its security but to countries around the world,” the secretary of state said. “I can’t imagine a gathering with any of my interlocutors where China won’t be a significant part of the conversation.”

Mr. Trump signed an executive order this month effectively blocking Huawei from the U.S. market and has pressured Germany and other allies not to work with the company, lest Washington end its long-standing practice of sharing intelligence with close allies.

A senior State Department official said Mr. Pompeo would push the matter with German officials.

“We’ve [already] made clear that if the risk of sharing information exceeds the threshold for the United States, we may be forced to limit information sharing,” the official said.

German officials say they’re fully aware of Washington’s concerns, but they have yet to say they will not allow Huawei into the coming national 5G network.

“Look, Germany, like the U.S., sees that China is not a free-market economy. It is a state-driven, state-command economy run by the central committee of the Communist Party in Beijing,” said Juergen Hardt, a member of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party and a key voice on foreign policy within the Bundestag.

Mr. Hardt said Berlin “shares the worries of the U.S. in terms of handing over telecom market access to Chinese companies because we recognize the potentially huge risk to our security if the 5G network of Germany or Europe comes to depend on core technology from China.”

But, he added, “I think we have to be careful about how this gets debated publicly. We have to be aware that we should handle the matter in a sensitive way that doesn’t drive China to turn the issue into a World Trade Organization dispute.”

Germans officials also say they resent Mr. Trump’s threats to increase tariffs on German automobiles in light of the roughly $65 billion U.S. bilateral trade deficit. German officials say the relationship is complex and inextricably tied to the global economy — specifically to China and the growing trade war between Washington and Beijing.

It is, for instance, no secret that Germany’s BMW ships far more of the vehicles it makes in the United States to China than those made in Germany — a reality that found the automaker in a bind last year when Beijing suddenly ramped up tariffs on auto imports from the U.S. as retaliation for Mr. Trump’s own tariff hikes against China.

European tour

Mr. Pompeo’s visit to Berlin will just be the first stop on a five-day European tour that will include stops in Switzerland and the Netherlands, before the secretary of state joins Mr. Trump’s state visit in London early next week.

U.S. officials say the trip will focus mostly on Mr. Trump’s desire to “adapt and refine” economic partnerships between the U.S. and EU countries. But the European campaign to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of last year, remains a major strain on transatlantic ties.

In one of the more curious items on the itinerary, Mr. Pompeo over the weekend will make a secretive side trip in Switzerland to Montreux, where royalty, government officials and business executives are gathering for the notorious annual “Bilderberg Meeting.”

Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and foreign policy adviser, Jared Kushner, is on the guest list for the meeting, having just completed a Middle East tour to tout the Trump administration’s long-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

A senior State Department official said Mr. Pompeo plans to attend “one session only” at Bilderberg, and it was not clear if Mr. Pompeo’s and Mr. Kushner’s time there would even overlap.

The issue of Iran — and the sharp escalation of tensions in recent days — likely will provide some uncomfortable moments for Mr. Pompeo when he meets Ms. Merkel.

“A lot of German people are afraid the situation might escalate,” Mr. Hardt said, insisting that Berlin backs U.S. demands that Iran curb its weapons programs, stop supporting terrorist proxies and end its hostility to Israel.

“But we have differences in terms of strategy,” he said. “The Trump strategy is to put more and new pressure on Iran to get some form of capitulation from Tehran to sign a better or broader treatise than the existing nuclear deal.

“But I believe Russia and China will never accept a situation where Iran is obliged to capitulate to President Trump,” he said.

The gulf is so wide between allies, he added, that “I’m not so optimistic the disagreement can be overcome right now.”

Pipe dreams

Some analysts say Germany feels emboldened on the Iran issue because of Berlin’s success over the past decade in standing up to American opposition on an entirely separate issue — the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline with Russia.

Despite years of behind-the-scenes cajoling and open threats of economic sanctions from two U.S. administrations, Germany is moving ahead with the pipeline that Moscow boasts as the most massive Russia-to-Europe project in the post-Cold War era. Critics in the U.S. and in Europe fear the pipeline will increase Germany’s dependence on Russia as an energy supplier and undercut the role of Ukraine as a transit site.

And there is the issue of NATO and German military spending — a matter close to Mr. Trump’s heart but one likely not to see much progress during Mr. Pompeo’s visit. While the Merkel government has expressed determination to reach NATO’s benchmark of spending 2% of GDP on defense by 2024, meeting the goal seems unlikely.

Mr. Pompeo suggested Thursday that the discussion on defense spending will be nuanced, telling reporters traveling with him to Germany that he became personally familiar, in his former role as CIA director, with the depths of the wider U.S.-Germany security coordination.

“There’s lots of pieces to our defense relationship,” he said. “It goes beyond just the resources allocated.”

But Mr. Pompeo also said Mr. Trump remains unsatisfied with Germany’s baseline defense spending.

“We do need them to step up,” the secretary of state said. “They’re an important, big economy inside of the EU, and we need them fully engaged and devoting adequate resources to the protection of Europe.”

Analysts generally agree.

“The U.S. is constantly beating up on Germany over defense burden sharing and, frankly, the Germans do need to do more and deserve criticism for their low defense spending,” said Jeffrey Rathke, who had multiple postings in Europe — including in Germany — during a 24-year former career as a U.S. diplomat.

“Defense burden-sharing is an issue that Pompeo may raise on his visit, because it is likely to be a central factor at the December 2019 meeting of Donald Trump with the other NATO leaders, and the Germans will want to head off fresh criticism from the Trump administration during that meeting,” said Mr. Rathke, now the president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University.

“There is talk,” he said, “that the U.S. might ask for Berlin to pay not only the full cost of hosting U.S. troops in Germany, but to also pay ‘cost plus 50%.’”

Mr. Hardt scoffed at the notion in an interview this week: “If Pompeo raises this question, Germany will have an answer on that: No. Stick to the principle that NATO allies pay for the cost of their troops by themselves.”

Mr. Rathke noted that, despite the tensions, the U.S. relationship remains the single most important for Germany outside the EU and “Berlin is reluctant to up the ante with Washington.”

Germany, he noted, “has an economic model that’s so export-dependent that anything the U.S. does vis-a-vis the global economy, including tariffs on China, stands to impact Germany. Merkel knows this and it is part of the reason why she keeps the relationship on an even keel and is careful not to overreact to every thing Trump says or does.”

“The risk for the United States,” Mr. Rathke added, “is that if U.S. officials simply read the riot act to the Germans on a range of fronts, Washington will miss the opportunity to seize on common ground — areas where Washington and Berlin can make some progress and work together even if other big policy disagreements remain in the Trump era.”

Mr. Beyer, the Merkel government’s point man on trans-Atlantic ties, said the political establishment in Berlin is actually very eager to work with the Trump administration — where it can.

“Expectations might be quite low, but it’s good that we’re talking,” he said. “It’s good that the secretary of state is visiting. It would be very, very bad if we stopped talking.

“During the first year of Donald Trump, there were people in Germany who said a smart approach would be just to wait Trump out,” Mr. Beyer added. “I think that’s just stupid and won’t work. We need to deal with the reality and reality today is that we cannot just sit and wait.”

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