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View From Europe: Biden Aims To Strengthen Trans-Atlantic Ties


We want to turn now to Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's former deputy foreign minister, who also served as ambassador to the U.S., to get a different perspective on President Biden's first foreign trip. He's on the line with us now from Berlin. Ambassador, welcome to the program.

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: Good morning. Great to be on your program.

MCCAMMON: We just heard White House communications director Kate Bedingfield say President Biden's European tour is focused on partnering with G-7 communities to ultimately repair relationships with major allies and to show the world that the U.S. can lead. Looking back, in what ways do you think the former Trump administration damaged those relationships?

ISCHINGER: Well, quite frankly, the relationship was being damaged across the board, beginning with the most fundamental, you know, element which ties, in terms of security, Europe together with the United States. That's the famous Article 5 guarantee in the NATO treaty. President Trump created questions about whether that political guarantee is about to survive or not. And I'm very happy, joining many millions of Europeans who welcome President Biden's willingness to recommit the United States to its close partnership and alliance with Europe. And I hope, quite frankly, that out of these discussions - first now in England and then in Brussels in coming days - out of this will not only come a recognition and appreciation of President Biden's forthcoming steps reconnecting with Europe, but also a European response to the United States that we are also going to have something on the table that will benefit the relationship and will ultimately benefit the United States.

MCCAMMON: You're talking about President Trump,= - former President Trump, you say, casting doubt on the United States' commitment to protecting European allies. What can President Biden do to repair these alliances?

ISCHINGER: Well, you know, this entire question is one not of something that's written in some documents. It's a question of essential trust. And quite frankly, if you ask me, Joe Biden as a junior senator participated in the event I've had the privilege of chairing now for the last decade or so, the Munich Security Conference. He participated in that event, which even then was a major annual event, in 1980. Most of the people I talk to every day have - weren't even born then. So he is - if you leave aside for a moment the queen of England, he is the only person I can think of who has followed and participated in and having been a decision-maker in the U.S. Senate and later as vice president, et cetera, in international policy and crisis management for 41 years. That's hard to beat, quite frankly. So in a way, from my vantage point, Joe Biden is a walking confidence-building measure. And that's what Europe needs; that's the medicine we want, we need, after four years of mistrust and of doubt and of statements by the former administration that Europe is, from a U.S. point of view, the foe and not the partner.

So, you know, these were difficult periods for us. And now a new chapter is being opened. And I think President Biden will be having a success to talk about when he returns to the United States. He will be warmly welcomed throughout the European Union, throughout the NATO partnership.


ISCHINGER: So this is actually a great week for the transatlantic relationship.

MCCAMMON: Well, as you say, Biden has a long history of relations with European leaders. But how concerned - especially looking at how divided American politics are, how concerned are European leaders about what happens after Biden is no longer in office?

ISCHINGER: Well, you are hitting a very important point here. And I think this is probably the one area where the relationship between Europe - where the relationship and between Europe and the United States is now changing. Because in the past, we didn't really care so much whether there was a Republican or a Democrat in the White House; it worked well all the time. Now we know that we actually have to have an interest in having somebody in the White House who appreciates Europe. So that's the strategic novelty, and it changes the way we're going to be doing business with each other.

MCCAMMON: That's Wolfgang Ischinger, former German ambassador to the United States. Thanks so much for your time.

ISCHINGER: Thank you very much. Great talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TESK'S "LEGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.