NEWS

Premier to visit US and Germany

Prime Minister George Papandreou is to visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama next month for talks expected to focus on Greece’s efforts to curb a gaping budget deficit, the premier’s office said yesterday. Papandreou has accepted invitations from the two leaders to visit Berlin on March 5 and Washington on March 9, a source at Papandreou’s office said. The meetings would come just a week before the European Commission’s deadline of March 16 by which time Athens is expected to have demonstrated progress toward getting the economy back on its feet. «At this very difficult time, such high-level international contacts are very significant,» government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis, said yesterday. According to sources, diplomats in Athens hope that Papandreou’s visit to Washington would help discourage global markets speculating over Greece’s fate. Merkel, in an interview this week with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, said that such speculation was a threat to the euro but she said she believed the common currency «could handle it» and expressed «gratitude» to Papandreou for «revealing the true extent of the problem» with Greece’s finances and declaring his readiness to tackle it. In a related development Papandreou said that Athens would not raise the issue of World War Two reparations from Germany at the current time. «We are not surrendering our rights but we are also not being carried away by the current events,» Papandreou told parliament, referring to German press reports describing Greeks as «cheats» and a «burden on German taxpayers.» «If we officially raise the issue now, this could easily be interpreted as another sign of weakness and an effort to shirk our responsibility,» he said.