Obama de­clares sup­port on cru­cial is­sues

In land­mark visit, out­go­ing US pres­i­dent says aus­ter­ity not a growth strat­egy, praises work on refugees, ex­presses op­ti­mism on Cyprus

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

Athens yes­ter­day se­cured the po­lit­i­cal state­ment it had hoped for from out­go­ing US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who un­der­lined the need for debt re­lief for Greece and for the Euro­pean Union to ease off ex­ces­sive aus­ter­ity.

“We can­not sim­ply look to aus­ter­ity as a strat­egy,” Obama said told a joint me­dia con­fer­ence with Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras.

“Our ar­gu­ment has al­ways been that when the econ­omy con­tracted this fast, when un­em­ploy­ment is this high, that there also has to be a growth agenda to go with it and it is very dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the kind of growth strat­egy that’s needed without some debt re­lief mech­a­nism.”

Obama also un­der­lined the im­por­tance of re­forms that will en­sure Greece is at­trac­tive for the in­vest­ments that will al­low it to re­turn to growth.

He said it was cru­cial to ease hard­ship and im­prove the daily lives of Greek cit­i­zens.

Tsipras struck a sim­i­lar tone, declar­ing that “Greece’s econ­omy and so­ci­ety, after seven whole years, can­not take any more aus­ter­ity.”

He ex­pressed op­ti­mism that Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel would re­spond pos­i­tively to Greece’s de­mands, not­ing that as a Ger­man she is con­sis­tent about hon­or­ing agree­ments and as a politi­cian she has a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fu­ture of Europe.

Ac­cord­ing to sources, in his talks with Obama, Tsipras asked him to press Greece’s cred­i­tors to en­sure that no “un­nec­es­sary ob­sta­cles” tran­spire in the bailout re­view that is cur­rently un­der way and which must be com­pleted for talks on debt re­lief to be­gin.

Obama also re­ferred to United Na­tions-backed Cyprus peace talks, say­ing that even though “suc­cess is not guar­an­teed,” there is a “real prospect for re­solv­ing” the decades-old dis­pute, in fact “the best they have seen for some time” as both lead­ers, Cyprus Pres­i­dent Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades and the Turk­ish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Ak­inci, ap­pear com­mit­ted to a so­lu­tion. If they reach an agree­ment, he said, ev­ery­one will sup­port it.

Kathimerini un­der­stands that Obama’s re­marks may not have been just spec­u­la­tive but in­formed by facts on the ground, as sources say that the two lead­ers are very close to an agree­ment.

Nonethe­less, Tsipras ex­pressed Greece’s firm op­po­si­tion to a so­lu­tion that would en­tail the pres­ence of Turk­ish troops on the is­land. Both men also re­jected the “anachro­nis­tic” sys­tem of guar­an­tees that Tur­key in­sists on pre­serv­ing as part of a so­lu­tion.

Greek Pres­i­dent Prokopis Pavlopou­los, who met Obama ear­lier yes­ter­day, ex­pressed the same sen­ti­ments and in­sisted that any so­lu­tion should be based on in­ter­na­tional law and the ac­quis com­mu­nau­taire, which would ex­clude the ex­is­tence of oc­cu­py­ing troops on the is­land.

In a bid to over­come this stick­ing point with re­gard to the sys­tem of guar­an­tees, Wash­ing­ton floated the idea for the cre­ation of two mil­i­tary bases on Cyprus – a Greek and a Turk­ish one – during a meet­ing in Septem­ber be­tween Amer­i­can Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Ak­inci.

The im­por­tance the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is at­tach­ing to the ef­forts to re­solve the Cyprus prob­lem is high­lighted by the fact, ob­serves say, that he is ac­com­pa­nied on his visit by US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for Euro­pean and Eurasian Af­fairs Vic­to­ria Nu­land, a high­rank­ing of­fi­cial steeped in ex­pe­ri­ence with re­gard to peace ef­forts on Cyprus.

More­over, Wash­ing­ton diplo­mats have re­peat­edly said that a Cyprus so­lu­tion would pave the way for the ex­ploita­tion of the huge nat­u­ral gas re­serves in the East­ern Mediter­ranean.

Apart from Cyprus, Greece’s over­all for­eign policy chal­lenges were also high­lighted during Obama’s meet­ing with Pavlopou­los, who lam­basted Tur­key’s “un­ac­cept­able and in­con­ceiv­able” stance as ex­pressed by its Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who has re­peat­edly be­moaned the Treaty of Lau­sanne in 1924, which de­mar­cated the borders be­tween the two coun­tries, as un­fair on Tur­key.

He also made a ref­er­ence to Greece’s name dis­pute with the For­mer Yu­goslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM), which, he said, in­sists on claim­ing a name for it­self which apart from be­ing his­tor­i­cally un­sub­stan­ti­ated also re­veals an ir­re­den­tism that im­plies it dis­putes ex­ist­ing borders.

The mood was more re­laxed at a din­ner Pavlopou­los hosted later in the day for Obama, who stressed the ties of friend­ship that bind Greece and Amer­ica and quoted from the an­cient states­man and or­a­tor Per­i­cles.

As Greek and Amer­i­can of­fi­cials dined at the Pres­i­den­tial Man­sion, hun­dreds of hooded youths clashed with po­lice a few blocks away. The unrest shifted to the neigh­bor­hood of Exarchia later last night, with po­lice find­ing bags full of hun­dreds of home­made fire­bombs in the area, ac­cord­ing to sources.

There will be tight se­cu­rity for a sec­ond day to­day in Athens and around the Stavros Niar­chos Cul­tural Foun­da­tion on the south­ern coast of the cap­i­tal, where Obama is to de­liver a speech at 1 p.m.

The site of the Acrop­o­lis will be closed to the pub­lic all day as the out­go­ing pres­i­dent has said he would like to visit it.

Later this af­ter­noon, Obama is to fly to Berlin, where he is to hold talks with Merkel that are ex­pected to fo­cus on the reper­cus­sions of Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion as US pres­i­dent, aus­ter­ity pol­i­tics and the Greek sit­u­a­tion and Europe’s refugee cri­sis.

In his com­ments yes­ter­day, Obama praised Greeks for show­ing "ex­tra­or­di­nary com­pas­sion" in their re­sponse to refugees.

Out­go­ing US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama walks into the Max­i­mos Man­sion with Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras yes­ter­day (top). Obama’s con­voy passes through cen­tral Athens yes­ter­day (bot­tom). Se­cu­rity has been ramped up for the his­toric visit.

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