The possible appointment of an envoy suggests a new strategic direction for the administration. Previously, the White House hired European affairs experts in the National Security Council and the State Department to handle the pipeline diplomacy. Officials tell POLITICO there is consensus that the delicate geopolitics surrounding Nord Stream 2 now requires more attention – especially as the pipeline, which is nearly 96 percent complete, is nearing completion.
It’s also a nod to Capitol Hill’s print campaign in which senators from both parties urged the Biden administration to effectively cripple the pipeline before it’s too late. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has maintained swift validation of candidates for the top State Department from Biden as part of this effort, and other Senators have publicly urged the administration to expedite a package of sanctions aimed at companies involved in construction of the pipeline are involved, if required by law.
In a recent private meeting, Cruz urged Victoria Nuland, Biden’s election to head the State Department’s Political Affairs Bureau, about the possibility of appointing an envoy to handle the matter, according to two people familiar with the conversation. (The Senator’s office declined to comment.)
Cruz’s efforts, while incremental, have an impact. Last month, the Texas Republican announced the nomination 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 company involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline risks US sanctions and should stop work on the pipeline immediately, “Blinken said.
However, a US official familiar with the matter argued that the government was already dragging their feet. Last month, the Ministry of Justice approved at least two sanction packages for Nord Stream 2 AG, the company responsible for the planning, construction and subsequent operation of the pipeline, and its CEO Matthias Warnig and CEO Matthias Warnig. The packages have not yet been implemented, however, and it remains to be seen whether the administration will put Nord Stream 2 AG and Warnig on the list of sanctionable bodies it will have to make available to Congress next month.
However, some officials fear that appointing an envoy may actually be counterproductive and are further delaying sanctions on Nord Stream 2 by telegraphing Germany and Russia that the US is open to some form of reconciliation. However, a Democratic Senate adviser told POLITICO that Hochstein’s appointment to the role would be “welcomed” by the Democrats. “Amos would be a great person for this position,” said the aide, noting that he “has a good reputation” and worked on similar issues during the Obama administration.
While it is not yet clear what the envoy’s exact mandate and parameters would be, the role would, at least initially, focus on conducting delicate negotiations on how to obstruct the pipeline without getting a key US ally in Berlin alienate. It could then expand to cover more international energy issues, much like Hochstein did at the State Department under Obama, said two people involved in the discussions.
The diplomatic situation is extremely delicate, officials said. The government wants to hinder Moscow’s energy levers – Biden has called it “bad business for Europe” – but it also wants to strengthen US relations with Germany, which Washington is using to ensure that the construction of the pipeline continues unabated. “We are between a rock and a tough place,” a senior civil servant said last month.
The federal government has made several potential offers to get the US to close the pipeline, people familiar with the talks said, including trade deals and increased investment in green energy projects in Europe and Ukraine.
However, US lawmakers from both parties have argued that regardless of German attempts to sweeten the deal for Washington, the pipeline would place Russian infrastructure within NATO territory, threatening its member states. This would also make some European countries more dependent on Russian energy, according to lawmakers, and withhold billions in revenue from Ukraine, because Russia could bypass the country when it comes to transferring gas to Europe.
“[C]Combating malicious Russian aggression is in the vital national security interest of all NATO, all EU members and our partners in Eastern Europe, ”said Bob Menendez (DN.J.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (DN.J.) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.).) Wrote in a letter after flashing at the end of last month. “We cannot lose sight of this central principle if we participate diplomatically in the pipeline.”