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Germany’s Baerbock Meets Blinken in First Washington Visit

The Green Party leader faces a challenge in squaring her party’s foreign-policy goals with her two coalition partners.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock chat before a bilateral meeting ahead of the G-7 foreign ministers summit in Liverpool, England, on Dec. 10, 2021. Olivier Douliery/POOL/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visits Washington, the United States reports record coronavirus cases, and Kazakhstan sees rare unrest.

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Baerbock Meets Blinken

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visits Washington, the United States reports record coronavirus cases, and Kazakhstan sees rare unrest.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Baerbock Meets Blinken

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visits Washington today for the first time since assuming her role in December. She is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The two already spoke this time last week on a joint call with their French and British counterparts. They discussed Russia and Ukraine, as well as Iran, Libya, and China’s dispute with Lithuania over Taiwan.

Today’s meeting is expected to follow up on those priorities, with Ukraine again in focus.

For Baerbock, it’s a chance to burnish her position as one of the key leaders in a three-way coalition government. Aside from her obvious green credentials as co-leader of the Green Party, her positions on China and Russia boost her appeal to a Biden administration wary of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose Social Democratic Party (SPD) has traditionally been more sympathetic toward Russia.

“There is a desire to elevate her as the foreign minister and to in a way strengthen her position within her own government and within German politics, because that’s going to be important for the potential areas of agreement and collaboration down the road,” Jeff Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, said of U.S. goals for Baerbock’s visit.

Baerbock has promised a “values-based” foreign policy, a change from Angela Merkel’s outgoing government, which is perceived as having put economics above all else—particularly regarding China, Germany’s No. 1 trading partner.

“The most crucial difference in her outlook is questioning mercantilism as the ultimate backbone of Germany’s foreign policy,” said Bastian Hermisson, the executive director of the Washington office of the Green Party-associated Heinrich Böll Stiftung, adding that the business-led approach had failed to deliver on its promise of increased democratization and support for a rules-based order.

Whether Baerbock will be allowed leeway on foreign policy has been questioned in Germany, with Rolf Mützenich, a senior SPD member, telling German radio last month that the new government would pursue “a smart foreign policy that above all will be driven by and conceived in the chancellery.”

Nevertheless, Baerbock’s Green Party is expected to keep its focus on the topic, with Omid Nouripour, the party’s foreign-policy spokesman, likely to assume half of the party’s dual leadership now that Baerbock and her co-leader Robert Habeck are in government.

Despite U.S. misgivings over the SPD’s relationship with Russia, Germany’s chancellor isn’t likely to cozy up to the Kremlin any time soon. “It’s hard to predict exactly what Scholz is going to do, but I don’t think he’s going to want to be seen among his European colleagues as the one who is Putin’s advocate,” Rathke said.

“What’s more important for Germany is the direction of the European Union, and it makes it a lot harder for Germany to deal with other important issues if they alienate a dozen other members by being soft on Russia.”


What We’re Following Today

Kazakh unrest. Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a two-week state of emergency and movement restrictions following violent protests in the major city of Almaty, on Tuesday. The unrest appeared to be sparked by the government’s decision to remove a cap on fuel prices; the government subsequently reversed its decision and reinstated the caps. Tokayev declared on Tuesday that his “government will not fall, but we want mutual trust and dialogue rather than conflict.”

Borrell in Ukraine. EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell arrives in Ukraine today for a three-day visit. Borrell’s first foreign trip of the year will take him to eastern Ukraine for the first time, where he will tour the line of contact where Ukrainian forces have battled pro-Russian separatists. The trip underscores the “EU’s strong support to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity at a time when the country is confronted with Russian military build-up and hybrid actions,” a European Commission statement said on Monday. 

Omicron’s rise. The United States recorded 1 million new coronavirus cases on Monday, the highest number of infections recorded in one day in any country over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The surge comes as the World Health Organization stated on Tuesday that the omicron variant appeared to show less severe symptoms than other variants, a development that appears to be backed up by hospitalization data. The variant’s rapid spread has caused its own problems in hospitals, however, as high infection rates among medical workers leave them short-staffed.


Keep an Eye On

Yemen’s war. More than 200 combatants were killed in clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces in Yemen on Tuesday as fighting intensifies in the now seven-year war. The escalation in violence comes as the Houthis fight to take control of Marib, the last government-held provincial capital in the country’s north.

Feltman to Ethiopia. U.S. Horn of Africa envoy Jeffrey Feltman will visit Ethiopia on Thursday to discuss peace talks with Ethiopia’s government, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday. The trip comes as Tigrayan forces have withdrawn from the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions amid Ethiopian government advances, leaving open the possibility of a new cease-fire.

Sudan’s transition. In a joint statement on Tuesday, the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, and Norway cautioned Sudan’s military leaders against unilaterally installing a new prime minister following the resignation of Abdalla Hamdok. The group of nations said it “will not support a prime minister or government appointed without the involvement of a broad range of civilian stakeholders” and “would look to accelerate efforts to hold those actors impeding the democratic process accountable.”


Odds and Ends  

Paradise is open for business once again in Thailand, as tourism officials welcome visitors back to Maya Bay on Phi Phi island, better known as the filming location for the 2000 film The Beach. Unlike its hidden persona on-screen, the beach’s real-life mega-popularity was almost its undoing, with the thousands of tourists it hosted each year responsible for so much damage to the area’s delicate ecosystem that it had been closed since 2018 in a conservation effort. This time around, only 375 visitors will be allowed on the beach at any one time, and swimming is not allowed.

“The sharks have come back, coral reefs are regrowing, and the water is clear again,” Yuthasak Supasorn, the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, told Reuters.

“These things show that nature will heal if we give it time, and we have to work to keep it that way too.”

Correction, Jan. 5, 2022: A previous version of this article misidentified the Kazakh city of Almaty.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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