WASHINGTON, July 15 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday vowed to work together to defend against Russian aggression and stand up to anti-democratic actions by China.
Biden said he reiterated his concerns about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, but he and Merkel were united in their belief that Russia should not use energy as a weapon.
"We stand together and will continue to stand together to defend our eastern flank allies at NATO against Russian aggression," Biden told a joint news conference with Merkel.
He said both countries would stand up for democratic principles and universal rights when they saw China or any other country working to undermine a free and open society.
The United States and Germany are key NATO allies, but the relationship suffered under former President Donald Trump. Biden and Merkel have known and worked with each other for years. Both vowed to strengthen the ties between the two countries going forward.
Washington fears the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will hurt Ukraine and increase European reliance on Russian gas. The United States wants Germany to find ways to ensure that Russia could not use the pipeline to harm Ukraine or other allies in eastern Europe.
The $11 billion project, which is expected to be finished in September, will bypass U.S. ally Ukraine, potentially depriving it of valuable transit fees.
Germany and the United States also disagree over the wisdom of partnering with China on business projects, temporary patent waivers aimed at speeding global COVID-19 vaccine production and ongoing restrictions on Europeans traveling to the United States.
Biden, 78, and Merkel, 66, see eye to eye on a string of broader matters, and both want to strengthen the transatlantic relationship that suffered under Trump's frequent, withering criticism of close U.S. allies.
"The cooperation between the United States and Germany is strong and we hope to continue that, and I'm confident that we will," Biden said as they began a meeting that lasted well over an hour. He noted Merkel had been to the Oval Office many times and called her "a great friend, a personal friend, and a friend of the United States."
"I value the friendship," said Merkel, the first European leader to visit Biden at the White House, underscoring America's role in building a free and democratic Germany after World War Two.
The two leaders do not have much time to work together to strengthen ties between the world's largest and fourth-largest economies.
Merkel, chancellor since 2005, plans to exit Germany's government after national elections in September, meaning she is likely to be seen as a "lame duck" in her final months in power.
Polling shows her Christian Democrats are poised to take the lead in forming a government after the election, but it remains unclear which parties would be included in a coalition.
Biden's Democratic Party has tenuous majorities in the U.S. Congress that could evaporate in the 2022 congressional elections.
John Emerson, who served as ambassador to Germany under former President Barack Obama, said the relationship remains "indispensable" for Washington given Germany's role as the largest economy in Europe and a NATO ally, as well as its importance as a bridge builder in dealing with Russia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Germany hosts some 36,000 U.S. troops on its soil.
On Thursday evening, Merkel and her husband will attend a dinner hosted by the Bidens at the White House. Guests include U.S. lawmakers, former secretaries of state Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton and the Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the White House said.
Merkel's White House visit showed the United States is trying to make amends with an ally that was often attacked during the Trump years.
"Inviting her to come is important symbolically, but it's also an opportunity to get the relationship back on the right track, and that is clearly happening,” Emerson said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Andreas Rinke and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Editing by Peter Cooney, Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)