Athens clings to Obama’s words as fo­cus now on Ber­lin

US pres­i­dent ex­alts Greece, democ­racy

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

Greece yes­ter­day hailed the sup­port ex­pressed by out­go­ing US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for debt re­lief for the coun­try even as the lat­ter ar­rived in Ber­lin for talks with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, whose coun­try has con­sis­tently re­sisted re­struc­tur­ing Greece’s debt bur­den.

Gov­ern­ment spokesman Dim­itris Tzanakopou­los ex­pressed “sat­is­fac­tion” with Obama’s ref­er­ences to the cru­cial is­sues of debt, the refugee cri­sis and Cyprus. “The US pres­i­dent made clear that aus­ter­ity can­not lead to eco­nomic pros­per­ity,” he said. Asked why an in­ter­ven­tion by Obama in fa­vor of Greek debt re­lief now that he is on his way out of the pres­i­dency should make a dif­fer­ence, Tzanakopou­los said that the sit­u­a­tion in Europe is now very dif­fer­ent and there is a shift against aus­ter­ity.

“There is a very good pos­si­bil­ity that by the end of the year we will have very pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments as re­gards the Greek debt,” Tzanakopou­los said, not­ing that Athens was on course for a Eurogroup meet­ing on De­cem­ber 5.

The spokesman de­scribed Obama’s visit as “an event of global sig­nif­i­cance” while sources in­di­cated that the out­go­ing pres­i­dent had been “very friendly” to Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras.

Ear­lier in the day, Obama de­liv­ered a stir­ring speech at the Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion Cul­tural Cen­ter, ex­alt­ing the virtues of democ­racy and an­cient Greece’s con­tri­bu­tion to the mod­ern world. “I came here with grat­i­tude for all that Greece – ‘this small, great world’ – has given to hu­man­ity through the ages,” Obama said, re­fer­ring to Aeschy­lus, Euripi­des, Herodotus, Thucy­dides, Socrates and Aris­to­tle.

Obama took ad­van­tage of the speech to high­light the demo­cratic val­ues he sought to honor while in of­fice and im­plic­itly prod­ded his Repub­lic suc­ces­sor Don­ald Trump to do the same. He also em­pha­sized his re­spect for Greece’s ef­forts to re­spond to Europe’s refugee cri­sis de­spite its own prob­lems. “Be­cause our democ­ra­cies are in­clu­sive, we’re able to wel­come peo­ple and refugees in need to our coun­tries. And nowhere have we seen that com­pas­sion more ev­i­dent than here in Greece,” he said.

In a brief meet­ing be­fore Obama’s speech at the Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion Cul­tural Cen­ter, the out­go­ing US pres­i­dent met with op­po­si­tion New Democ­racy leader Kyr­i­akos Mit­so­takis. In the meet­ing, Mit­so­takis un­der­lined the need for debt re­lief and the cru­cial role Greece has to play in pre­serv­ing sta­bil­ity in a volatile re­gion. In com­ments later, Mit­so­takis ac­knowl­edged the sig­nif­i­cance of the sup­port of friends like Obama but he em­pha­sized that “there is no deus ex machina” and that ev­ery­one must play their part to ex­tri­cate Greece from the cri­sis.

Smaller op­po­si­tion par­ties also hailed Obama’s visit but pointed at en­dur­ing prob­lems. De­scrib­ing Obama’s visit as “an ex­tremely sig­nif­i­cant event,” PASOK leader Fofi Gen­ni­mata added that “the prob­lem is that Obama leaves but un­for­tu­nately the prob­lems re­main here and re­main un­solved.”

Out­go­ing US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tours the Parthenon with Eleni Banou, head of the Cul­ture Min­istry’s Ephor­ate of An­tiq­ui­ties for Athens, yes­ter­day. Obama asked Banou many ques­tions, in­clud­ing how Per­i­cles funded the Acrop­o­lis works.

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