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

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

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.

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