It’s a surprising trip: Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is flying to Washington on Friday night for a short-term visit to US President Joe Biden. The Federal President’s Office announced this in the evening. The US government headquarters in Washington also confirmed the meeting in a statement. Steinmeier, who is still in the Cape Verde Islands after a two-day state visit, canceled a trip to Portugal that had actually been planned immediately after the short trip to Washington. The Federal President originally wanted to take part in a meeting of the non-executive heads of state of the European Union in Porto.

An appointment for Steinmeier to visit President Biden had been in the works for some time. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is informed about the plans, and the Chancellery was temporarily involved in the preparations. Now the White House in Washington announced at noon (local time) that Biden and Steinmeier would celebrate German-American Friendship Day together.

October 6th is considered German American Day in the USA. It commemorates the first German settlers in the 17th century and the resulting German heritage in North America. On this occasion, the White House continued, the presidents would “reaffirm the close relationship between the United States and Germany.” This includes “close coordination as NATO allies on a number of important issues, including the defense of democratic values ​​and our shared commitment to supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russian invasion.”

It is the first personal meeting between Biden and Steinmeier as president. It is of great symbolic importance, especially for Steinmeier, after the Federal President came under criticism for his previous policy towards President Vladimir Putin shortly after the start of his second term in office and the Russian attack on Ukraine.

It should be a satisfaction for Steinmeier that he is now being received by Biden, who, as vice president under Barack Obama, had called for a tougher approach against Russia and arms deliveries to Ukraine – i.e. the opposite position of the federal government at the time. In November 2022, Steinmeier had already flown to the USA once, where he was awarded the Henry Kissinger Medal in New York. However, there was no appointment in Washington associated with this trip.

However, the visit and the meeting with Biden also come at a difficult time: American politics is largely blocked for the time being after the House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy was voted out, and the government cannot have a budget. This could also have foreign policy consequences, especially when it comes to continued support for Ukraine with weapons and money.

Biden and Steinmeier last met in person at a Western Balkans summit in Zagreb in 2015 – at that time as US Vice President and German Foreign Minister. In November 2022, Steinmeier congratulated Biden on his 80th birthday. With a view to the war in Ukraine and the associated political and economic challenges, Steinmeier wrote: “Many of my compatriots, including me personally, are happy and grateful to have an experienced, clever and far-sighted statesman and friend in the White House at this time .”

Steinmeier’s trip to Washington is not logistically uncomplicated. For the flight from Cape Verde to Washington, Steinmeier uses a Global aircraft from the Bundeswehr’s aviation readiness, which picks him up in Cape Verde. The Airbus that Steinmeier has been traveling with so far on his trip is flying back to Germany. The journalists who have accompanied the Federal President in the past few days will also begin their journey home with her. You’re not allowed to go to Washington.