AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Biden is hosting German Chancellor Angela Merkel today. It's something of a farewell tour. This is likely Merkel's last visit to Washington before she's expected to leave office later this year after nearly two decades in power alongside four U.S. presidents. And at the top of the agenda for these two leaders is strengthening the relationship between Europe and the U.S. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins us now with more. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.
CHANG: Good afternoon. So tell us what issues Biden and Merkel discussed today.
DETROW: Big picture, it was a pretty similar agenda to many of Biden's meetings with world leaders. They talked about climate change, COVID-19, countering Russian aggression online. At the press conference that I just came back from Biden and Merkel held after their meetings, Biden said that Merkel also wanted to discuss with him the fact that, while Europe eased restrictions on allowing American travelers last month, most Europeans are still prevented from traveling to the U.S. because of COVID restrictions. And Biden indicated that may change soon.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: This is a process of, for me, how soon we can lift the ban that's in process now. And I'll be able to answer that question to you within the next several days what is likely to happen. I'm waiting to hear from our folks and our COVID team as to when that should be done.
DETROW: And Biden indicated that Merkel really pressed him on this, and he even brought his chief COVID adviser into the room to discuss it. And Merkel told reporters that Biden gave her that same stay tuned answer in their private meeting. She also indicated that she wants whatever the decision is to be sustainable and makes sense at a time when variants are rising everywhere.
CHANG: Makes absolute sense. OK, the White House also said the two leaders would talk about one major point of contention, and that is the Nord Stream pipeline, which would bring natural gas from Russia to Germany. This is something the U.S. opposes. What did Biden and Merkel say about this today?
DETROW: Basically the diplomatic version of agree to disagree. Merkel made it clear it's going forward. Biden made it clear he did not like that fact but that, as he put it, friends can disagree. There's bipartisan U.S. opposition to this pipeline and concern that it boosts Russian influence too much and makes Germany too dependent on Russia at a time when it's been very aggressive toward its Western neighbors. And a reminder - earlier this year, the White House removed sanctions on a company building it. Biden said he did that because the pipeline is almost finished at this point, and it would be counterproductive. He said today he thinks it makes more sense going forward to focus his conversations with Merkel on how Germany will make sure Russia does not use this pipeline to pressure Germany and Eastern Europe.
CHANG: OK. And did this meeting today make any other news?
DETROW: Yeah. Biden was asked about two ongoing crises closer to home in Haiti and Cuba. Biden made it clear he is not considering sending U.S. troops to Haiti despite officials there asking the U.S. to do so. And on Cuba, where there have been sustained protests amid economic devastation, Biden said there are several areas of humanitarian aid that he would consider if he got guarantees that the government would not intercept them. And that includes allowing Cuban Americans to send money to their families and also sharing COVID-19 vaccines with Cubans. Biden also said the U.S. is considering whether it has the technological ability to reinstate the internet in Cuba. It's been turned off as these protests continue.
CHANG: Right. And as we said, this is probably Merkel's last trip to the White House as chancellor. Did Biden say anything about that?
DETROW: Yeah. He praised her as a close ally and partner. Merkel said the same. That's certainly been the case with several administrations with one big exception. And to figure out which one that is, Biden is hosting a dinner for Merkel right now. Alumni from the Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Biden administration are there. Nobody is representative from the Trump administration at this dinner for Angela Merkel in the White House.
CHANG: Interesting. That is NPR's Scott Detrow. Thank you, Scott.
DETROW: Sure thing.
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