Obama expresses broad support, confidence in Greece [UPDATE]

A meeting between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and US President Barack Obama in Washington late on Thursday culminated in the expression of firm support for Greece’s economic reform effort and a warning against too much austerity by Obama who also expressed his confidence in Greece as a valuable anchor of stability in a volatile region.

In comments to reporters at the White House, Obama expressed his conviction that Samaras is “committed to continuing these structural reforms” but said he agreed with the Greek premier that “in dealing with the challenges that Greece faces, we cannot simply look to austerity as a strategy.” “It’s important that we have a plan for fiscal consolidation to manage the debt, but it’s also important that growth and jobs are a focus,” he said.

Obama said the US aimed to to “continue to be helpful and supportive in what will be a challenging process,” noting that “the stakes are high for not only Greece but also Europe and the world economy.”

Apart from Greece’s economic crisis, the two leaders discussed issues of bilateral interest in the Mediterranean and beyond, Obama said, adding that “Greece can play an important stabilizing role and partnership role as we address issues in the Middle East, in North Africa, as we address issues in the Balkans.”

“We also discussed the strong bilateral military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries,” Obama said, adding that close cooperation in tackling terrorism threats would continue. On the issue of Cyprus, Obama said there was “a great opportunity” for a resolution of the island’s division.

For his part, Samaras reassured Obama that his government would do what is necessary to implement reforms but stressed the need for jobs. “Of course, we are going to do what has to be done as far as structural changes are concerned, but our emphasis has to be on growth and on the creation of new jobs, especially for the youth,” Samaras said. He added that, “if Greece succeeds — and it will succeed — our success story is going also to be a European success story.”

Samaras stressed once again that the sacrifices made by the Greek people “should not be in vain” and, according to sources, emphasized that efforts must be made to avert a new dispute between the European Union and the International Monetary Fund about how Greece’s debt should be managed to avoid rattling investors.

The Greek premier also referred to the discovery of “huge energy resources in our region,” noting that Greece could “realign” those resources together with Cyprus and Israel. Sources said the two leaders discussed energy issues behind closed doors though Obama made no reference to the matter in his comments to the media.

A senior Greek government official said that Greece could produce 4.7 trillion cubic meters of natural gas in 30 years.

Overall aides accompanying Samaras on his visit appeared satisfied with the good atmosphere of the talks between the Greek premier and Obama. White Office sources too confirmed that the talks were productive, focusing on the progress of the Greek economic reform effort and its potential for improvement.

On Friday, back in Athens, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou confirmed that US officials had expressed an interest in closer cooperation in the energy sector, indicating that the premier also had secured expressions of interest for investments from entrepreneurs in the US.

Meanwhile Evangelos Venizelos, who leads the second coalition partner PASOK, said he was “extremely satisfied” with the outcome of the Samaras’ talks in Washington and said he would probably meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry in New York in the last week of September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Before returning to Athens, Samaras flew to New York on Friday for talks with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Greek-American entrepreneurs and the editorial board of the New York Times. The talks with the UN chief are expected to focus on the Cyprus problem and the dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia regarding the latter’s official name.