Greeks ‘need hope,’ President Barack Obama says
In interview ahead of two-day Athens visit that starts today, outgoing US leader insists that reforms and ‘meaningful’ debt relief are essential
In a wide-ranging interview with Kathimerini, US President Barack Obama insisted that he will continue to urge the country’s creditors to take the necessary steps to ensure Greece returns to growth, including “meaningful debt relief.”
Speaking ahead of his two-day visit starting today, the outgoing US president said that Greece must continue on the path of necessary reforms, which he said can only be sustainable if people are given hope.
Obama praised bilateral ties, lauding Greece’s contribution to the NATO alliance despite its “economic hardships,” and the close cooperation on counterterrorism. He also commended the “inspiring” generosity the Greek people have shown to the refugees.
First, I want to say how much I appreciate the opportunity to visit Greece, and I thank Prime Minister [Alexis] Tsipras and President [Prokopis] Pavlopoulos for the invitation. My visit comes at a time when Greece is at the forefront of pressing challenges to our shared security and prosperity. The threat of terrorism from groups like ISIL endangers us all. The barbarity of the Assad regime in Syria and ISIL has contributed to the waves of migrants and refugees that have sought refuge in Europe, especially Greece. And on both sides of the Atlantic, we face the task of ensuring that our political institutions and economic policies are responsive to our people, many of whom feel that they have been hurt by globalization and trade.
My message – especially with my visit coming so soon after a hard-fought election campaign in the United States – will be that as our nations confront these challenges together, Americans continue to place enormous importance on our alliance with Greece. Despite facing extraordinary economic hardships, Greece is one of five NATO Allies that spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. We thank our Greek allies for our close cooperation at Souda Bay. We’re close counterterrorism partners and have to continue to share information and intelligence to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and prevent terrorist attacks.
I’ve made clear throughout my presidency that 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, the Greek people will have a friend and partner in the United States. Meanwhile, with the rise of populist movements and questions about the future of European integration, my visit to Greece – the birthplace of democracy and an inspiration for America’s founders – will be a chance to reaffirm the enduring values of democratic governance, diversity and tolerance that help keep us strong. We see those values every day across our countries, including among the many Greek Americans who contribute to the success of the Unites States every day.
Greece is a democracy, and the future of Greece will be decided by the Greek people. I have strongly supported efforts to keep Greece in the eurozone because I share the view of the vast majority of Greeks that this outcome is in Greece’s best interest. I believe that European integration is one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times, with benefits for EU members, the United States and the entire world. Europe is our largest economic partner and we have a profound economic in- terest in a Europe that is stable and growing.
Without question, Greece had to take steps to reform its economy, and I want to commend the Greek government, including Prime Minister Tsipras, and the Greek people for the very difficult and painful steps they’ve taken to show that Greece is working to help itself. The Greek budget is now in surplus and Parliament has passed tough reforms that will help make the Greek economy more competitive.
But there’s still clearly more to be done. My visit will therefore be an opportunity to reaffirm US support for reforms that improve the business climate, ensure that the imbalances that caused the crisis don’t re-emerge, and lay the foundation for a stronger economic recovery that helps improve the daily lives of the Greek people.
I am a strong believer that to make reforms sustainable, people need hope. The International Monetary Fund 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. This is why I will continue to urge Greece’s creditors to take the steps needed to ensure the country is well placed to return to robust economic growth, including by providing meaningful debt relief. Getting that done would not only fuel the Greek economic recovery, it would also show that Europe can make its economy work for everyone.
The entire world has been deeply moved by the compassion and generosity that the Greek people have displayed in the face of this heartbreaking crisis. We’ve seen Greek fisherman saving lives at sea, Greek communities offering food and supplies and clothing, and Greek families hosting refugees. All this generosity is even more inspiring – a true tribute to the 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.
Still, given the scope of this crisis, we all recognize that more needs to be done. As winter approaches, Greece can continue to work with humanitarian organizations to improve conditions for migrants in camps. At the refugee summit I hosted at the United Nations this fall, Prime Minister Tsipras made important commitments to increase housing for unaccompanied children and improve access to education for children who are migrants and refugees. As Greece’s ally and friend, the United States has provided humanitarian assistance to help with caring for migrants and our teams of experts have partnered with Greece on strengthening border security and screening of travelers. The United States supports NATO’s monitoring activity in the Aegean Sea to identify illegal crossings in the Aegean and inform local authorities – including the Hellenic Coast Guard.
As I’ve said before, a small number of countries – like Greece – can’t be expected to bear such a heavy burden alone. The response has to be coordinated and comprehensive, in Europe and around the world. That’s why we continue to support the deal between the EU and Turkey as the best hope for managing arrivals in Europe in a way that’s orderly and humane. It’s why, at the refugee summit, we helped galvanize more than 50 nations and international organizations to increase humanitarian assistance and double the number of refugees we admit to our countries and to help refugees become self-reliant. And it’s why we have to redouble our efforts to end the poverty, injustice, and conflicts – including Syria – that cause so many to flee their homes in the first place. In all of this, we have to stay true to the values and respect for human dignity that are at the core of our democratic, pluralistic societies. And while these values are indeed under pressure on both sides of the Atlantic, I continue to believe that the forces that bind our societies together are ultimately much stronger than the forces trying to pull us apart.
Barriers surround Zappeion Hall, the building which will host the press center for the duration of US President Barack Obama’s visit. Obama commended the ‘inspiring’ generosity the Greek people have shown to the refugees.
Obama says Greece must continue on the path of necessary reforms which will only be sustainable if people are given hope.