The United States will continue to encourage Europe to adopt policies that will strengthen the global economy and reduce unemployment, while ensuring that Greece remains a “strong and vital” part of the eurozone, Vice President Joe Biden told Kathimerini ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday.
“The president and I are acutely aware that the Greek people are living through an incredibly difficult period,” Biden said.
The vice president suggested that foreign policy issues would also figure prominently on the two leaders’ agenda as he labeled Greece “an essential voice” in the Eastern Mediterranean and said Washington is interested in discovering more about the Greek government’s plans for the European Union’s six-month rotating presidency, which it assumes in January.
What is the significance of the prime minister’s visit to the White House? Does the current government have US support in terms of its effort to deal with the crisis in Greece?
The US-Greece relationship matters a great deal to both of our countries. It’s a strong partnership based on the shared values that make us not only close allies, but good friends. During the visit we anticipate discussing a number of issues.
First, the United States greatly appreciates all that Greece does to help address a number of global security challenges – from hosting allied operations engaged in Libya to supporting stabilization efforts in Kosovo. And we plan to discuss the continued strength of that partnership.
Second, we look forward to discussing Greece’s presidency of the EU in 2014, and how we think it can help further our shared goals. That includes everything from expanding trade between the United States and Europe to supporting international and EU efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria, to advancing the broader vision of a Europe, whole and free.
Third, as you know, Greece remains an essential voice in the Eastern Mediterranean. I’m encouraged by recent efforts to foster closer ties and build trust between the Greek and Turkish governments and believe that this can have a positive effect on security and stability throughout the region, including in Cyprus. On this latter issue, we are looking forward to the resumption of settlement talks and are ready to work closely and actively with the United Nations, both Cypriot communities, as well as with Turkey and Greece, to seek a mutually acceptable settlement that brings about reconciliation and the reunification of the island under a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
Fourth, the president and I are acutely aware that the Greek people are living through an incredibly difficult period as they cope with the economic crisis that has lasted four years and has required enormous sacrifice. The United States continues to believe that the reforms Greece is making are essential to creating a more prosperous future for its people, but we are deeply empathetic to the cost they exact.
I will say that while there continue to be challenges, we are encouraged that the Greek government is making progress under Prime Minister Samaras. We have a stake in Greece’s success and I want to reassure you, as I did during my visit to Athens in December 2011, that the United States will continue to stand in solidarity with our Greek friends as we look for ways to support your reforms and accelerate a return to growth.
The US has been very critical of the severe fiscal recipe promoted by Germany and others in Europe. Do you believe this policy will change? Why are you so concerned about it? And what can the administration do in this context?
The United States has no bigger, no more important economic relationship than it does with Europe, and that is not hyperbole. We know, as you know, that a strong European economy is absolutely essential to a strong global economy and a robust US recovery. So we have a lot at stake here, and we talk about that with our friends and allies, just as we have from the beginning of the crisis. We share our ideas, and sometimes we share our concerns about how to address the financial risks and strengthen the global economy. But overall, I think it’s fair to say that Europe’s leaders have worked through some very tough issues and taken some truly unprecedented actions to strengthen the underpinnings of its monetary union and the fundamentals of its economy. Today we are seeing some early signs that the European economy may be starting to stabilize, which will be very welcome news if it holds. In the meantime, you can expect President Obama and me to continue our advocacy for policies that will strengthen the global economy and bring down unemployment on the continent.
There have been press reports that the administration had actively intervened in the past few years in order to avoid a Greek exit from the eurozone. Is that the case?
The administration has always taken the view that it’s overwhelmingly in our interest to have Greece remain a strong and vital part of the eurozone as it undertakes difficult reforms to modernize its economy. We’ve made that view clear to Europe, to the world, and to Greece. That’s what friends do; we talk to each other about our mutual interests. And as I said, we applaud Greece as it undertakes these difficult but much needed economic reforms to bring financial stability and economic competitiveness back to the Greek economy. And we welcome the commitment by the European Central Bank to do whatever it takes to maintain the integrity of the eurozone. That commitment helped to calm the financial markets and remove an important headwind to the global economic recovery.
Greece has begun an exploration process for the discovery of natural gas reserves in its seas. Is there US interest in this and are you concerned about possible Greek-Turkish tensions if areas disputed by Turkey are involved?
The prospects for new energy resources are very exciting and may provide a great economic opportunity for Greece and the region. That includes the development of offshore gas, as well as the distribution of it through the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will make an important contribution to European energy security. There’s an environmental component to this, as well. Clean-burning natural gas is an important bridge fuel to help meet global energy needs as we work toward a low-carbon energy future.
But this potential is about more than the economic opportunities it may provide or the environmental challenges it may help alleviate. It also presents an important opening for regional strategic cooperation.
There’s no question that Greece can play a constructive role in developing these resources. So we encourage all of our partners in the region, including Greece, to develop offshore resources, as long as they do it in a safe, responsible manner that promotes and maintains regional cooperation and stability, and is in line with international laws. A clear-eyed focus on the mutual benefits of cooperative resource development is the key to a more stable, secure, and prosperous regional energy market.