Ahead of his two-day visit to Athens that begins Tuesday, US President Barack Obama has stressed the need for “meaningful debt relief” for Greece and expressed Washington’s support for reforms that will “improve the business climate.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Kathimerini published on the weekend, the outgoing president was adamant that to make these reforms sustainable, “people need hope.”
“I am a strong believer that to make reforms sustainable, people need hope. In Greece’s case, the IMF has said that debt relief is crucial to put Greece’s economy on a sustainable path and set the stage for a return to prosperity,” he said, urging Greece’s creditors to “take the steps needed to ensure Greece is well placed to return to robust economic growth, including by providing meaningful debt relief.”
Athens is banking on a concrete statement of support from Obama on the issue of debt relief during his visit, in order to galvanize Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos at the scheduled meeting of eurozone finance ministers on December 5.
Referring to bilateral ties, Obama said, “Americans continue to place enormous importance on our alliance with Greece,” and lauded Athens as a close counterterrorism partner and for its close cooperation at Souda Bay on Crete, as well as its commitment to the NATO alliance.
“Despite facing extraordinary economic hardships, Greece is one of five NATO Allies that spend 2 percent of GDP on defense,” he explained.
He also pledged that the Greek people will always have a friend and partner in the United States “as Greece continues to take the hard steps of reform at home and works to ensure that migrants are treated in an orderly and humane way.”
Obama praised the “compassion and generosity” that the Greek people displayed to refugees. “All this generosity is even more inspiring – a true tribute to decency and humanity of the Greek people – given the fact that Greeks have done so while continuing to deal with their own economic hardships at home,”
With regard to ongoing UN-backed Cyprus peace talks, Obama said, “The prospects of a lasting settlement are the best we’ve seen in many years,” and that a just solution will enhance energy security in the Med region and beyond.
Read the full interview here.