Obama raises debt relief possibility on final Greece visit

Athens, Nov 16 (IANS) Outgoing US President Barack Obama has used his final trip to Europe to call for action to put Greece on a path to “durable” economic recovery, including the possibility of debt relief.

Making his first stop in Athens in a farewell tour aimed at safeguarding his legacy, Obama made the strongest case yet for the debt-stricken country to be given some slack, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

He said: “To the rest of Europe I will continue to emphasise our view that austerity alone cannot deliver prosperity.”

Acknowledging the “painful and difficult time” Greeks had endured as a result of being bailed out to avoid economic collapse, the US president called for a growth strategy that included debt relief formulas. A prosperous Greece would not only be good for the Greeks but good for Europe and ultimately the world, he said.

“I will continue to urge creditors to put Greece on a path of a durable economic recovery,” he told a press conference after talks with the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

“Our argument has always been that when the economy contracts this fast, when unemployment is this high, that there also has to be a growth agenda to go with it and it is very difficult to imagine the kind of growth strategy that’s needed without some debt relief mechanism.”

But Obama insisted that, like all countries, Greece also had to undergo structural changes and acknowledged that in an arena of multiple players, such as the EU, consensus was hard to come by.

“I know the politics of this are not easy,” he said, adding that EU member states had their own institutions and constituencies to take into account.

Greece has suffered a depression-era downturn since its debt crisis began in late 2009. Biting austerity, in the form of numerous rounds of budget cuts, has left a third of the population living in poverty and one in four out of work.

With the US President heading next to Germany, the biggest champion of tough fiscal policies in the EU, the Greek government has set much store by the visit.

Tsipras, who has called for a debt deal to be reached by the end of the year, described Obama’s support as crucial.