Obama’s Greece Visit – Dancing around the Greek debt minefield

Obama’s Greece Visit – Dancing around the Greek debt minefield


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First and foremost it was a great relief to see U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew step off the plane and quietly slip into the Presidential super-limo in Athens November 15, while President Obama was left handling the airport arrival and protocol formalities with Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos. While Obama’s final overseas trip is well staffed, no other cabinet-level official is traveling with President Obama on this (first) stop, which tells you Washington clearly understood precisely what Greek Prime Minister Tsipras is looking for.
American pre-departure statements about the Greece stop have sought to put a broader geopolitical perspective on the visit. The Greek side has given lip service to most of that before Obama arrived and focused on debt relief almost exclusively, with just a bit of attention to Cyprus, Turkey and the ongoing refugee crisis. President Obama’s statements routinely contain the checklist of issues Washington sees as important.
What we did not hear from President Obama on his first day in Greece was a promise to make locking in debt relief for Greece a priority before his term expires January 20. Instead he took a much more subtle approach arguing the need for Washington to convince Greece’s creditors to take steps to get Greece on the path for a sustainable recovery and to support a growth agenda. “We cannot look at austerity as a strategy” Obama said a joint press conference after meeting PM Tsipras November 15, also noting that Greece “needed space” for its structural reforms and nascent recovery to take hold. So what we have from President Obama is a pledge that he understands Greece’s sacrifices and will continue doing what he has been doing, but no indication that his successor will.
It remains to be seen how much work will be accomplished at tonight’s official dinner for President Obama at the Presidential Palace in Athens. Surely Jack Lew and Finance Minister Euclides Tsakalotos will have time to plot next steps on the debt issue over dinner, or perhaps Wednesday morning. Assuming of course that they make it to tonight’s dinner, with various Greek anarchist gangs loudly threatening to disrupt the proceedings if they possibly can. To be continued.

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