Politico reports that the White House is currently in talks to appoint a special envoy to lead negotiations on stopping construction of the Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline that will run from Russia to Germany.
The news outlet, which cited current and former U.S. officials, said the talks come “as the Biden administration grapples with how to stymie a nearly completed energy project that would serve as a major financial and geopolitical boon to Moscow.”
Amos Hochstein, who served as the special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs under President Barack Obama and was a close adviser and confidant to then-Vice President Joe Biden, was informally offered the role by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan late last month and is being vetted, the officials said, but he has not yet accepted the job.
Hochstein, who stepped down from the supervisory board of the Ukrainian energy company Naftogaz late last year, declined to comment.
The potential appointment of an envoy indicates a new strategic focus by the administration. Previously, the White House had tasked the European affairs experts at the National Security Council and the State Department with handling the pipeline diplomacy; officials tell POLITICO there’s consensus that the thorny geopolitics surrounding Nord Stream 2 now require more dedicated attention — especially as the pipeline, which is already nearly 96 percent finished, races toward completion.
Politico noted that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been pushing the Biden administration to cripple the pipeline before it becomes too late.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has held up speedy confirmation of Biden’s top State Department nominees as part of that effort, and other senators have publicly called on the administration to accelerate a sanctions package targeting entities involved in the pipeline’s construction, as required by law.
While it is not yet clear what the envoy’s exact mandate and parameters would be, the role would at least initially be focused on managing delicate negotiations over how to impede the pipeline without alienating a key U.S. ally in Berlin. It might then expand to deal more broadly with international energy issues, similar to what Hochstein was doing at the State Department under Obama, said two people involved in the discussions.
The diplomatic situation is extremely delicate, officials said. The administration wants to impede Moscow’s energy leverage — Biden has called it “a bad deal for Europe” — but it also wants to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Germany, which has been lobbying Washington for the pipeline’s construction to continue unabated. “We’re between a rock and a hard place,” a senior administration official said last month.
However, “U.S. lawmakers from both parties have argued that regardless of any German attempts to sweeten the deal for Washington, the pipeline would place Russian infrastructure inside NATO territory and thereby threaten its member states.”
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