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Biden To Waive Sanctions For Company Building Russian Gas Pipeline

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Biden administration reported to Congress today on the steps it's taking to stop a controversial natural gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany. Many lawmakers are not happy with the latest development. Instead of punishing the company building Nord Stream 2, the Biden administration has decided to waive sanctions for national security reasons. NPR's Michele Kelemen's traveling with the U.S. secretary of state, and she joins us from Reykjavik, Iceland. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So the U.S. strongly opposes this pipeline, saying it increases European energy dependence on Russia. And so why did they decide to waive these sanctions?

KELEMEN: Well, because these sanctions would mean punishing Germany. And the Biden administration has been making a point of trying to rebuild relations with European partners, relations that were strained in the Trump administration. So, you know, the Germans today were quick to confirm this news. They were certainly glad that the U.S. is putting a premium on relations and waiving sanctions on the company Nord Stream 2 AG and its CEO, who's a German citizen.

Now, the U.S. may be hoping that U.S. diplomats can quietly continue to make their case that this is not a good deal for European energy security. Another hope is that if the Green Party in Germany wins elections this fall that it might actually stop the project anyway. The other thing, Ari, that I often hear from U.S. officials is that, look. This pipeline is almost complete. So it's not at all clear if these sanctions will really prevent its completion.

SHAPIRO: Is there a risk that after months of the Biden administration talking tough about Russia that this sends a different signal?

KELEMEN: Well, that's what a lot of lawmakers say. You know, Republicans and Democrats want to see the U.S. stand tough on this issue. They were the ones who wrote the legislation requiring the U.S. to impose sanctions on companies involved in the project. And by the way, Ari, this could complicate the Biden administration's efforts to get personnel confirmed into Congress. Some were already delayed over this issue. But as for Russia, you know, officials there were sounding pretty upbeat today. And I should say the timing of this is quite interesting because both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, are here in Reykjavik for meetings of the Arctic Council. So they're having - you know, this is Blinken's first face-to-face dealings as secretary with Sergey Lavrov.

SHAPIRO: Is there a sense that with U.S.-Russia relations at such a low point that this might be some kind of a reset?

KELEMEN: Yeah, I mean, the Biden administration doesn't use that term, but they do want what they say is a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia. And the meeting on the sidelines of this Arctic Council meeting is a chance to test whether that's possible. The Arctic Council is traditionally a place for cooperation on climate issues and sustainable development. So Blinken is hoping that it stays that way. They're also expected to discuss plans for a summit between Presidents Biden and Putin. But, you know, relations are in a really bad spot. The two men have to even discuss kind of the basic functioning of the U.S. embassy because Russia's decided that the U.S. can no longer hire local Russian staff. That's just one of many, many issues that are straining relations and being discussed here in Reykjavik.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen traveling with the secretary of state. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RONE'S "NAKT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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