Remarks by President Obama and President Gauck of Germany before Bilateral Meeting
11:15 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it is a great honor to have a great friend of the United States, President Gauck, visit the Oval Office. It gives me an opportunity to repay the hospitality that the President extended to me during one of my visits to Germany.
Although it’s well-known in Germany, for American audiences, some people may not be aware of the President’s extraordinary life and the role that he’s played in creating a modern, unified, democratic and peaceful Germany. As a pastor and a democratic activist in Eastern Germany, he played an important role in giving voice to the aspirations of all those who sought a unified Germany that reflected the values that we now see in that great country.
And as Germany recently marked an important milestone in reunification, it’s a great reminder that not only was reunification important for Germany, but it was important for Europe, it was important for the transatlantic relationship, and it was important for the world.
Germany obviously is one of our strongest allies. And the President continues to give voice to the importance of the U.S.-German relationship, to the values of tolerance and democracy and human rights and freedom that are so important to both of our countries. On a wide range of international issues -- from the tragic situation in Syria and the need for a humane response to the refugee crisis, to a peaceful resolution that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon -- the President’s voice has been clear in helping Germany make its mark on the world’s stage and serve as an incredibly important partner for us.
And I think his travel itinerary here in the United States, visiting Philadelphia and seeing the Liberty Bell, visits here to the King Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, I think are indicative of the shared values, both democratic and religious and humanist, that are so important to the President, important to Germany, and important to the American people.
So we welcome him. I look forward to an excellent discussion about how we can further deepen our already extraordinarily strong ties, and deeply appreciate the work that he’s done on behalf of Germany and on behalf of the world.
PRESIDENT GAUCK: (As interpreted.) Mr. President, I would like to thank you very much for having invited me. Your invitation reaches me at the age -- at a time where I’ve turned 75. And in that life span of mine, the United States of America have twice expressed their strong support for a cooperative development of Germany, and thus have had a positive influence on German development.
And my visit has to be viewed in a broader historical context. Seventy years ago, Germany suffered a vast defeat, a defeat that then turned into a liberation for the country. Many Americans gave their lives at that time in order to bring out that liberation. Twenty-five years ago, my country became reunited. Americans like the then-President George W. Bush Senior and other Americans have expressed their strong support firmly and early on in ensuring Germany became united. One cannot but express one’s gratitude for that fact. And this is how I want my visit to be understood.
It is in this context that you have mentioned the places I’ve had the pleasure to visit during my visit here. In Philadelphia, I went to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. I went to the room in which important documents of importance for the integrity of the United States of America -- freedom for everyone, that is -- a nation of liberty on display.
I went to visit the Lincoln Memorial to remember Martin Luther King, and thus I expect that, above and beyond the topics that we will discuss today and that we need to discuss because they are of importance and affect us these days -- my visit is also to be understood as kind of pilgrimage to the birthplace of a country that embodies very important concepts and ideas -- ideas that are important for the American people, but also for the history of mankind.
Thus, I have the expectations that, as I said, of course, we are going to talk about topical issues, but we will also have the opportunity to address the odd problem in that context, but I also want to do that, expressing my full awareness of the fact that relations between our countries and peoples are firmly based on a solid, longstanding foundation.
Mr. President, I am very grateful that you have raised a topic that has turned to a burning issue these days, one of the major problems on our agenda -- that is, the present situation in Syria, which is very complicated and complex indeed. We are not yet in a position where we could claim that we have found the appropriate response to this problem and this crisis, and as the crisis unfolds, we are faced with a situation that faces another difficult situation for us, and that is the great influx of a great number of refugees, of people who are fearing for their lives and thus are leaving their home country.
Now, Germany, because of its history, is a country that shows great readiness to allow these people into its country to offer asylum for these people in dire need. And this is why this issue has very much moved into the focus of political debate and to the top of Germany’s or Europe’s political agenda these days.
We are much aware of the fact that this is a major humanitarian challenge that we have to address. And my hope would be, my wish would be that a realization that that awareness does not only exist in Europe, but it’s also something that is recognized in the United States of America. And I also have the sincere hope and wish that we may succeed in finding a solution on the one hand for these people who are fleeing their country, but also a solution that will allow us to tackle the problem at its root causes.
We are very close here, Mr. President. Every side is trying to do its bit. And I’m very grateful for the fact.
It is in this sense that I would like to convey the heartfelt greetings of the Federal Chancellor to you, Mr. President. At the same time, I would like to thank you for the very kind words you have found as regards my personal life and myself as a person.
I still remember very fondly the joy felt by the German people when you for the first time came to pay a visit to my country. And that feeling of openness and joy was a feeling that was addressed to you, Mr. President, but it was also German hearts going out to the American people and to the Nobel Peace Laureate, Barack Obama. And I think that that is an illustration of the fact that, despite the disagreements and misunderstandings that occur every once in a while -- and I think that is only natural, in a way, amongst partners -- we are very close. We are cooperating closely. We share common values. And I would wish to underline this here now once again.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody.
11:32 P.M. EDT