Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA)
Outgoing US President Barack Obama has used his farewell trip to Europe to call for action to put Greece on a path to “durable” economic recovery, including the possibility of debt relief. Obama praised Greece for showing humanity to the thousands of refugees landing on its coasts and supported a just and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem.
At the airport President Barack Obama has been greeted with a military honor guard in navy and green uniforms and a military band after stepping off Air Force One on a windy and chilly morning. Among the dignitaries greeting the president were Greece’s minister of national defense, “Panos” Kammenos, and the U.S. ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt.
During the first day of his visit, President Obama was received by the President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos at the Presidential Mansion. A 35 minute long discussion with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took place at the Manximos Mansion, followed by a joint press conference.
Later in the evening President Pavlopoulos offered a state dinner in honor of the U.S. President.
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.
President Prokopis Pavlopoulos noted the need to defend the welfare state by “raising a wall to intercept the extreme inequalities that directly threaten social cohesion”, during a speech at the state dinner he hosted to honour visiting U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening.
Pavlopoulos said Greece respects representative Democracy and all its institutions which shield the sovereignty of the people, the democratic authority of Parliament and the independence of the judiciary “from any arbitrary interference by the executive power and any types of globalized economic institutions which are devoid of any democratic legitimacy”.
He noted that Greece continues its path within the European Union and its core, the Eurozone, despite the enormous difficulties suffered by austerity. “And we strive, together with all our partners who share a genuine and selfless European orientation, so that the European project rediscovers the principles and values on which it is founded,” he said.
In his third point, the Greek president said the country responded with dignity to the massive refugee flows which are caused primarily by the war in Syria and the wider region.
On his side, Obama thanked Pavlopoulos and the Greek people for the warm welcome and hospitality, noting: “You will always have the support and the friendship of the United States, as you work to move the country ahead.”
He said the United States are thankful for their alliance with the Greeks adding the two peoples have inspired each other in their respective wars for independence and have stood with solidarity “in times of war and peace, in good times and bad, including the last few years, which I know were extremely difficult for the Greek people.”
According to the protocol, the 130 Greek and American officials who attended the dinner included, apart from Obama and Pavlopoulos, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos II, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt and several Greek foreign ministry officials.
Obama’s visit: U.S. President stresses need
for debt relief during meeting with Tsipras
Starting out by addressing reporters in Greek, U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday recognised the very difficult times faced by ordinary Greek men and women during the long years of crisis, in joint statements with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens.
“This crisis in not an abstraction. It has had a very concrete devastating effect on the lives and livelihoods of millions throughout the country,” he said.
Obama noted that much of the discussion with the Greek prime minister was focused on the economic situation and how Greece can continue going forward. He said Tsipras had outlined the steps and reforms he will take to “prevent the kind of imbalances that led to the public debt crisis in the first place and make the country attractive to investments.”
Greece was now on the road to recovery and In order to make the reforms sustainable in the long-term, the Greek economy needed ‘space’ to turn around and generate jobs, Obama said. “Austerity as a strategy” cannot be the way to generate growth, the U.S. president added, noting that Greeks had to see improvement in their daily lives.
Noting that Greece was continuing reforms, Obama also pointed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) position that debt relief was crucial. “I will continue to encourage the creditors to take the steps needed to put Greece on the path of recovery,” he said.
“We all want Greece to succeed, we all want the Greek people to prosper,” Obama added, noting that this would be good for Greece, for Europe, for the United States and for the world.
Among the economic problems discussed with Tsipras, Obama added, were the serious challenges they faced as allies in NATO and he congratulated Greece as one of only five countries in NATO that continues to spend 2 pct of its GDP on defence, even during the difficult years of crisis. If even crisis-stricken Greece was able to meet this target, he noted, then all the NATO allies should be able to do the same.
Obama said they also discussed the importance of exchanging information in order to prevent terrorist attacks and maintaining sanctions, including those of the EU, against Russia until Russia fully meets its obligations on the basis of the Minsk agreement.
The U.S. President praised the “extraordinary compassion shown” by Greeks, especially on the islands, toward migrants and refugees in spite of their own economic hardships. He said that Tsipras had promised to increase housing for migrants and refugees and access to education for children. He promised that U.S. will continue to help with refugee crisis as much as it can, noting that the problem was not Greek but international.
Obama said he had also reaffirmed the support of the U.S. for the agreements between the EU and Turkey as the best way of dealing with the arrivals in Europe in an orderly and humane way.
On the Cyprus issue, the U.S. president said that the “prospects for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement are the best they had been for some time.”
“This does not mean that success is guaranteed,” he clarified, but that a possibility for resolving a decades-long conflict is there. He said a bizonal, bicommunal solution was in the best interests of all Cypriots, leading to a solution that was viable in the long term and create prospects for all people on Cyprus.
“Such a solution is possible and it would be an excellent example for the world, showing what diplomacy can do,” Obama added.
The U.S. president concluded by saying that he looked forward to addressing the Greek people on Wednesday, noting that Greece remains one of the closest allies and friends of the United States.
Replying to press question on his country’s unemployment and GDP as compared to the results in Greece during the years of crisis, and whether Greece’s programme was attainable without debt relief, Obama noted that the two economies were not strictly comparable though both had experienced severe economic contraction and lost jobs.
Obama said he had taken over at a time when the U.S. economy was contracting faster than during the Great Depression but “we took measures, learned from our mistakes, stabilised the economy and returned to growth.”
“One of the lessons we learned is this: it is important to combine structural reforms and good fiscal stewardship, along with a growth strategy,” he said, noting that cutting spending when the economy was contracting would lead to further contraction. The U.S. president admitted, however, that the U.S. was in a better position to do this than Europe, since it was one country and also had the dollar, which continued to be the world’s reserve currency, giving it greater flexibility.
“The key lesson we drew from our experience was that particularly when the economy is still struggling, putting people back to work and doing things to spur economic activity -ultimately this is the factor that reduces structural deficits and debts.”
He noted that Greece had had to endure some difficult measures but was on the right path, making its economy more competitive and attractive to investors by carrying out the structural changes necessary in a globalised economy.
“Even, however, when you are carrying out structural reforms, our position has always been that when an economy is contracting this fast, when unemployment is so high, there also has to be a growth agenda,” he emphasised. “It is difficult to imagine the kind of growth surge that’s needed without some debt relief,” he said.
Obama expressed understanding for the European governments in the north that faced pressures from their own voters and were resistant to such debt relief formulas. However, he added, having seen Greece begin many of these difficult steps, carry out difficult structural reforms, commit to making changes and all the Greek people have been through, there was an opportunity for the both sides to recognise the need to arrive at a solution, instead of coming back every year or six months a new negotiation. “That would be good for everyone. Now that the Greek economy is back on a path to growth, maybe this is the right time, he added.
Obama’s visit: We intend to stand
shoulder to shoulder with the Greek people
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos received on Tuesday US President Barack Obama at the presidential mansion.
Pavlopoulos welcomed the US president to Greece and expressed the hope that Obama’s successor Donald Trump will continue on the same path.
On his part Barack Obama said it is his last foreign trip as president adding “it is appropriate to visit a great country, the birthplace of democracy, the source of so many of the ideals and values that helped to build America.”
“Obviously Greece has gone through very difficult economic times over the last years. It is the policy of my administration to do everything we can to work with the Greek government and the Greek people to restore growth and optimism and to alleviate hardship. We are glad to see that progress is being made and we recognize that there are significant challenges ahead. We intend to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Greek people,” Obama stressed.
Obama also said that he was looking forward to visiting the Acropolis.
The US president praised Greece for “the humanitarian and compassionate manner” it has dealt with the refugee crisis and clarified that questioning the Lausanne Treaty is ‘inconceivable’ and would undermine not just Greek borders but EU borders.
Referring to NATO, he said it is “absolutely vital” and the “cornerstone of security,” while referring to EU he stressed that is it not only good for Greece but also for Europe.