German President Joachim Gauck called for a greater US commitment to easing the refugee crisis engulfing Europe, during a visit to the White House on Wednesday.
“We are much aware of the fact that this is a major humanitarian challenge,” Gauck said as he met US President Barack Obama.
“My wish would be that this awareness does not only exist in Europe but is also something that is recognized in the United States of America,” he added, speaking through a translator.
“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 to tackle the problem at the root causes.”
The United States announced in early September that it would take in 10,000 refugees over the coming 12 months, amid criticism it wasn’t responding sufficiently to the migration crisis triggered by the war in Syria.
German authorities said earlier Wednesday they had registered around 577,000 asylum seekers in the first nine months of this year, a third of whom claim to be from Syria.
Europe’s top economy is expecting to receive as many as one million asylum seekers this year.
Obama praised Gauck’s “clear” voice “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.”
Gauck — whose role is largely ceremonial — told reporters after the meeting that his talks with Obama were amicable and substantive.
“We described the humanitarian situation as a great threat also for the political stability in Germany,” Gauck said, adding that Obama called Germany a “role model in Europe” for dealing with the influx of refugees and migrants.
According to Gauck, the US president also praised Germany’s diplomatic efforts in the Ukraine conflict and in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran.
The two presidents also talked about sweeping online surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) revealed by fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Gauck said he addressed the “concerns and fears” of the German population over NSA activities, adding that Obama reacted in a “partially understanding” manner.
Gauck’s criticism of NSA surveillance is rooted in his experience as a Lutheran pastor in Eastern Germany, where he became involved in the opposition to the communist regime and was spied on by the secret police.
Gauck’s visit to the White House is the first by a German president since 1997, when Roman Herzog came to see Bill Clinton.
Gauck later presented an original segment of the Berlin Wall at the State Department.
“This segment of the wall shows that something must happen for walls to fall. The people must rise up,” Gauck said.