Samaras concludes US trip after garnering backing he wanted

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was due to conclude his three-day visit to the USA late Friday with the Greek government particularly pleased by President Barack Obama’s backing for a change in economic policy and interest in Greece playing a more prominent diplomatic role in its region.

Following his talks with Obama at the White House in Washington late Thursday, Samaras was in New York on Friday to meet Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Archbishop Demetrios of America and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

However, it is the meeting with Obama that was the trip’s most notable moment, especially as Samaras and his team appeared pleased by the content of the talks and the positions adopted by the US president during public comments.

Athens was particularly encouraged by the American leader making it clear that he thought there were limits to what austerity could achieve in Greece and Europe as a whole. Sources said that Obama was up to speed on Greece’s economic difficulties and that US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who visited Athens last month, also actively participated in the discussion.

“We cannot simply look to austerity as a strategy,” Obama said after the meeting. “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 our focus, because we know from history that those countries that are growing, those countries where employment is high and people are increasing their productivity and feel as if the economy is moving forward, those countries have an easier time reducing their debt burdens than countries where people are feeling hopeless.”

Obama’s comments come at an opportune moment for the Greek government, whose ministers have been stating publicly over the last few days, ahead of the troika’s return in September, that there is no scope for more austerity measures.

The one concern in the Greek camp is that the meeting with Obama and might be seen in Berlin as a move against Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel. In an interview on Mega TV on Friday, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras denied there was any kind of “clash” between Washington and Berlin.

Samaras and his aides were also pleased that the US president indicated that Greece could be a useful partner in Southeastern Europe and the wider region. “As the prime minister put it, sometimes it’s a challenging neighborhood, and Greece can play an important stabilizing role and partnership role as we address the issues in the Middle East and North Africa, as we address issues in the Balkans,” said Obama.

Sources said Samaras proposed during the White House meeting that Greece could host the next round of exploratory peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Obama also said he saw a “great opportunity” for the Cyprus issue to be resolved. After the meeting, Samaras called Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to brief him on the content of the talks as he prepares to start peace negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots in October.