Obama urges ‘meaningful debt relief’ for Greece ahead of visit

Athens: US President Barack Obama on Sunday urged a “meaningful debt relief” for Greece ahead of his visit to Athens on November 15-16 as part of his European tour.

“People need hope,” Obama stressed in an interview with local daily Sunday’s Kathimerini, underscoring also the need that Greece continues on the path of reforms to exit the seven-year debt crisis and restore sustainable growth.

“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,” Xinhua news agency quoted Obama as saying.

The outgoing US leader called on Greece’s international creditors to “take the steps needed to ensure the country (Greece) is well placed to return to robust economic growth, including by providing meaningful debt relief.”

According to Greek government sources, Athens hopes that a strong message of support from Obama on the debt relief issue may facilitate talks with European lenders in coming weeks, as some European capitals appear reluctant to address the topic soon.

On December 5, Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos will participate in a Euro Group meeting on the next steps to deal with the Greek debt crisis.

Obama is the first US president to pay a visit to Greece after Bill Clinton in 1999. As his term in office is closing to the end, during his visit to Athens he intends to send messages for unity and collaboration addressed to all Europeans and citizens of the world, he said.

“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,” he said.

“I believe that European integration is one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times, with benefits for EU members, the US and the entire world,” he said.

The US president also referred to the ongoing refugee crisis, praising the Greek peoples’ compassion. “All this generosity is even more inspiring — a true tribute to 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,” he said.

Regarding bilateral ties, Obama assured that “Americans continue to place enormous importance on our alliance with Greece,” praising the country for its commitment to the US-led NATO alliance and counterterrorism war despite economic hardships.

Concerning the UN-backed Cyprus peace talks, he said: “The prospects of a lasting settlement on Cyprus are the best we’ve seen in many years … A just and comprehensive solution for Cyprus would have historic and far-reaching impact. It would improve economic opportunities for all the people of Cyprus and enhance energy security in the Mediterranean region and beyond.”

The Cyprus peace talks are dedicated to paving the way towards reunification of the island by the end of the year. Cyprus has been divided in two since 1974 after a Greek coup spurred Turkey to send forces to the northern part of the small Mediterranean state.