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Biden seeks to appoint special envoy to kill Russia-Germany energy pipeline

The potential appointment of an envoy indicates a new strategic direction for the administration. Previously, the White House had tasked European affairs experts from the National Security Council and the State Department to handle pipeline diplomacy; Officials tell POLITICO there is consensus that the thorny geopolitics surrounding Nord Stream 2 now requires more dedicated attention – especially as the pipeline, which is already nearly 96% complete, is heading towards completion.

It’s also a nod to the Capitol Hill lobbying campaign, where senators from both sides pushed the Biden administration to effectively cripple the pipeline before it’s too late. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) delayed the rapid confirmation of Biden’s top State Department candidates as part of the effort, and other senators have publicly called on the administration to speed up a sanctions package targeting them. entities involved in the construction of the pipeline, as required by law.

In a recent private meeting, Cruz pressed Victoria Nuland, Biden’s choice to head the State Department’s Office of Political Affairs, on the possibility of appointing an envoy to handle the case, according to two people close to the conversation. (The senator’s office declined to comment.)

Cruz’s efforts, although gradual, are having an impact. Last month, the Texas Republican released his grip on the appointment of CIA Director William Burns after Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly pledged to shut down the pipeline.

“The [State] The department reiterates its warning that any entity involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline risks US sanctions and should immediately abandon work on the pipeline, ”Blinken said.

But a US official familiar with the matter argued that the administration was already dragging its feet. The Justice Department last month approved at least two sanctions packages targeting Nord Stream 2 AG, the company responsible for the planning, construction and subsequent operation of the pipeline, and its CEO Matthias Warnig, said the responsible. But the packages have yet to be implemented, and it remains to be seen whether the administration will include Nord Stream 2 AG and Warnig on the list of sanctionable entities it is required to provide to Congress next month.

Some officials, however, are concerned that appointing an envoy may in fact be counterproductive and are further delaying sanctions against Nord Stream 2 by telegraphing Germany and Russia that the United States is open to some form of reconciliation. But a Democratic Senate aide told POLITICO that Hochstein’s appointment to the post would be “welcomed” by Democrats. “Amos would be a great person for this job,” the aide said, noting that he “has a good reputation” and worked on similar issues under the Obama administration.

While the mandate and exact parameters of the envoy are not yet clear, the role would at least initially focus on handling delicate negotiations on how to hinder the pipeline without alienating a key US ally. in Berlin. It could then expand to deal with international energy issues more broadly, much like Hochstein was doing in the State Department under Obama, two people involved in the talks said.

The diplomatic situation is extremely delicate, officials said. The administration wants to hamper Moscow’s energy lever – Biden called it a “bad deal for Europe” – but it also wants to strengthen the United States’ relationship with Germany, which is pressuring Washington to construction of the pipeline continues unabated. “We are between a rock and a difficult place,” a senior administration official said last month.

The German government has launched several potential offers to get the United States to lay off the pipeline, said people familiar with the conversations, including the trade deals and increased investment in green energy projects in Europe and Europe. Ukraine.

But US lawmakers on both sides have argued that whatever German attempts to soften the deal for Washington, the pipeline would place Russian infrastructure inside NATO territory and thus threaten its member states. It would also make some European countries more dependent on Russian energy, lawmakers say, while robbing Ukraine of billions of dollars in revenue by allowing Russia to bypass the country when transferring gas to Europe.

“[C]countering Russia’s malicious aggression is in the vital national security interests of all NATO, all EU members and our partners in Eastern Europe, ”said the Minister. Chairman of the Senate External Relations Committee, Bob Menendez (DN.J.) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) wrote in a letter to Blinken late last month. “We cannot lose sight of this central principle as we enter the pipeline diplomatically.”

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