Germany’s Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Friday accused the U.S. of wanting to block a planned natural gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany in order to increase its own exports.
Altmaier's remarks came during an interview with ARD public service television, Deutsche Welle reported.
A media report released Thursday said U.S. President Donald Trump pressured Germany to abandon the gas pipeline project.
Trump told Chancellor Angela Merkel last month that Berlin should drop support for the pipeline if it wants to avoid a trans-Atlantic trade war, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, which cited U.S., German and European officials.
In return, Trump reportedly said the U.S. would start talks for a new trade deal with the European Union.
Altmaier said U.S. opposition to the project was driven by a desire to increase its own shale gas exports, the Deutsche Welle report said.
"They are looking for markets, which we can understand, and they can land it here easily," Altmaier said. "But it is much more expensive than pipeline gas, so blocking the Nord Stream 2 on its own won't guarantee exports."
-Europe to respond in kind
The minister also said that Europe would give a "firm response" if the U.S. placed its own economic interests above those of others.
"The U.S. are our friends and partners, and we want to defend our common values," Altmaier said, adding "But if it's America first, and they put their economic interests before others, then they have to expect Europe to define their own interests and fight for them."
The U.S. president in March imposed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports but gave EU countries until June 1 to negotiate new deals with the U.S.
Trump's move could be aimed at expediting those trade negotiations and increasing U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe, according to some experts, although White House officials have denied such objectives.
In early April, after meeting with the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia at the White House, Trump criticized the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
"Germany hooks up a pipeline into Russia, where Germany is going to be paying billions of dollars for energy into Russia. And I’m saying: What’s going on with that? How come Germany is paying vast amounts of money to Russia when they hook up a pipeline? That’s not right," he said.
Poland, Denmark and Ukraine also oppose the project, arguing that it would increase the EU's dependency on Russian gas and Europe should instead focus on diversifying its energy resources.
The $11 billion project plans to carry 55 billion cubic meters of gas annually 1,230 kilometers under the Baltic Sea from Russia to northern Germany after it becomes operational in early 2020.
The Nord Stream 2 project is also raising security concerns and could lead to U.S. sanctions, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy Sandra Oudkirk said Thursday in Berlin.
Oudkirk said Russia could use the project to place monitoring and listening devices for surveillance under the Baltic Sea, which increases the risk of the pipeline from an intelligence and security point of view.
She also noted that the U.S. Congress had given Trump the power to impose sanctions on a number of Russian energy projects, and companies involved in such projects carry the risk of incurring U.S. sanctions.
By Hale Turkes