ATHENS— U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced strong American support Sunday for Greece’s plan to recover from its financial crisis, calling its latest proposals to reform “vital first steps.”
“We know these were not easy decisions, they were acts of leadership,” Clinton said in Athens while meeting with Greek officials. “We know the price of inaction would have been far higher. . ..The payoff for these sacrifices will not come quickly, but it will come.”
Besides praise for Greece’s leaders, however, Clinton carefully avoided weighing in on the larger debate between Greece and other European nations over how to settle the escalating debt crisis.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou will meet with euro zone leaders in Brussels on Thursday to negotiate a new bailout package for Greece. The worry is that if Greece ends up in default, it will spur crises throughout Europe, especially in Spain and Italy.
At the same time, Germany has been pushing for private banks to help bear the burden of the latest proposed bailout. Last year, the European Union and International Monetary Fund gave Greece a bailout package worth roughly $160 billion in exchange for severe austerity measures that slash pensions and salaries.
But after Papandreou introduced the austerity measures, Greeks took to the streets and and rioting broke out last month. During Clinton’s visit, signs of that outrage were still visible – with graffiti decrying the austerity measures plastered on some of Athen’s buildings.
At a press conference with Clinton, Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis vowed that despite the public anger over the plan, Greece’s leaders were committed to it.
“Despite the doomsayers, we are proceeding and believe we will come out of this victorious,” Lambrinidis said. “Many on both sides of the Atlantic have bet on the collapse of Greece and have been proven wrong. We will continue to prove them wrong.”
While in Athens, Clinton also spoke with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos and President Karolos Papoulias, and signed a cultural agreement intended to crack down on trafficking of ancient Greek artifacts.