President Biden on Tuesday defended his decision to waive sanctions of the German builder of the controversial Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline, saying a harder line would have damaged overall U.S.-European relations.
Mr. Biden said he’s long opposed the project but noted that it’s almost completed at this point.
“To go ahead and impose sanctions now would, I think, be counterproductive in terms of our European relations. They know how strongly I feel,” the president told reporters before departing for a brief trip to Delaware to attend the funeral of a former staffer.
The comments came after the White House announced earlier Tuesday that the president will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin face-to-face next month for the first time since Mr. Biden took office in January.
The administration had announced sanctions on a number of Russian entities in relation to the project, which the U.S. opposes. But those sanctions are not expected to keep the contractors from finishing the last undersea parts of the pipeline.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said last week that the project will weaken European energy security but that it’s in the United States’ national interest to waive sanctions on the company overseeing it.
Nord Stream is a major priority for Germany, a crucial U.S. ally. But other allies, including Poland and Ukraine, have strongly opposed the project for fears it will undercut their role as the key transshipment rates for Russian natural gas and energy to Western markets.
The president has gotten bipartisan criticism from members of Congress on the issue.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said he opposes the waivers for the company, Nord Stream 2 AG, and CEO Matthias Warnig.
“The administration has said that the pipeline is a bad idea and that it is a Russian malign influence project,” Mr. Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said last week. “I share that sentiment, but fail to see how [waiving key sanctions] will advance U.S. efforts to counter Russian aggression in Europe.”
Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, said Mr. Biden made Mr. Putin very happy with the waivers.
“A weak approach on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline expansion into Germany only helps Russia, when they have already demonstrated they’re an unreliable and retaliatory energy partner in Europe, especially with our ally Ukraine,” Mr. Lankford said.