Remarks With Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou After Their Meeting
Secretary of State
Before we begin, I want to say just a few words about Iraq. Yesterday, millions of Iraqis reaffirmed their commitment to a democratic future and rejected a campaign of fear and intimidation. This election is a milestone for both the Iraqi people and our relationship, which is transitioning to a long-term, primarily civilian partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest. I congratulate every candidate who ran and every citizen who voted. And we look forward to working with the new government once it is formed.
And of course, Greece is the birthplace of democracy, so any time there’s a democratic election anywhere in the world, Greece should get a royalty, Prime Minister, because the Greek people --
PRIME MINISTER PAPANDREOU: It would help my deficit too.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, it would help the deficit. It’s a new way of plugging the hole. (Laughter.) The democratic values that Greece brought to the world and to civilization have enhanced the security and prosperity of people all over the world for a very long time. We had a broad-ranging discussion. Of course, as NATO allies, we work side by side on so many of these matters, and I thank the prime minister for Greece’s contributions to the refocused mission in Afghanistan. Both of our countries know what it is like to be targeted by terrorists and we are committed to confronting violent extremism that threatens peace-loving people everywhere.
Among our most pressing, shared challenges today is the global economic crisis that has thrown people out of work, shuttered businesses, drained government coffers in both the United States and Greece. I know these are difficult days in Greece, but I want to commend the prime minister for his leadership in tackling the challenge that he confronted upon taking office. We support Greece and the tough economic measures it is taking to address this issue. The prime minister and I discussed this today and we will remain in close contact going forward.
We also discussed the Balkans, where Greece has a key role to play in promoting economic opportunities, stability, and democracy. Finishing the task of integrating the Balkans countries into Euro-Atlantic institutions is essential to regional stability and development and we commend Greece for its leadership role in moving toward that.
I also was able to discuss with the prime minister his continuing efforts to strengthen Greece’s relations with Turkey. He has shown great leadership through the example of his own personal diplomacy. Greece and Turkey are NATO allies, two close friends of the United States, and a constructive relationship is in the interest of both nations.
As to Cyprus, I reiterated our support for the Cypriot-led negotiations under the auspices of the UN Secretary General’s Good Offices Mission, led by Alexander Downer. I commend both Cypriot leaders on their hard work in these settlement talks and on the progress that they are making.
Greece is a valued ally and a trusted partner. I know the President is looking forward to his meeting with the prime minister. So again, Prime Minister, thank you for this visit and your friendship.
PRIME MINISTER PAPANDREOU: Well, thank you much, Secretary of State, dear Hillary. It is both an honor and a joy to work with you in this capacity. And we have met many times in the past in many other venues and capacities and continue to share common purpose and values with both our countries and also, on a personal basis, working for peace, prosperity, and democracy around the world.
And I would say that although democracy is a – Greece is a – the birthplace of democracy, we haven’t asked for any royalties. And the reason is that democracy, in fact, we believe, is very important, and I commend and do wish the best for the Iraqi people and the new representatives of the Iraqi people and do wish for a democratic Iraq. A strong democracy is being moved forward in the world. That’s a prerequisite. But as I said, democracy, in fact, brings a stability, but it also brings a security which then allows for much more economic growth, social cohesion, a more just society. And this is the kind of society which we believe we need not only at the level of the nation state, but also around the world.
The financial crisis which we are going through in Greece has made us very much aware of the very strong and sometimes unregulated forces of our financial system, the globalizing market economy, and the need for the types of regulations and rules which will make sure that the markets work for us and work for our – for the benefit of our peoples. So this, I think, is also part of the democratic challenge we face, and it is a message which I’m bringing also from the European Union and from other leaders which I met just a few days ago – Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, Jose Luis Zapatero – that Europe is very much looking forward to meeting in the G-20, in the next meeting there, and promoting this idea of more further regulation, which is, I think, is in favor of the – of our citizens around the world and for growth.
And what we have done in Greece in dealing with this crisis – and thank you for your kind words – yes, we have taken very difficult decisions, difficult decisions in cutting down our deficit to make sure that our economy is viable, to make sure that we have put in place the necessary steps so that we can then restructure our economy, make our economy a green economy, one which is also important for attracting investment, developing our tourist industry, developing our agriculture, our services, but also making our society more just and more transparent and more open. This is a major change, and I thank you for your solidarity.
At the same time, what we have also seen is that very often, there are certain practices that perversely do not help the countries that are taking the right steps because of the speculation. And this is one of the areas where we think European and American cooperation, within the G-20, of course, will be of paramount importance in order to stabilize and make sure that a crisis doesn’t metastasize to other parts of the world.
I would also like to agree with the Secretary of State that we have – we are working very closely on a number of areas. The Balkans we do want to see stable, and Greece has taken the initiative to help promote the idea that the Western Balkans, still not members of the European Union, should accede to the European Union by 2014. Of course, if they do, also live up to their prerequisites of being a member of this community of values. This is important for stabilizing the wider region of the Balkans, and Greece, of course, is in a region where we’re at the crossroads – not only in the Balkans but also the Mediterranean, the Middle East. These are areas which are of great concern for us as they are neighboring areas.
Obviously, Greek-Turkish relations are of great importance for us. We have been staunch supporters of the Turkish possibility of being a member of the European Union also. But at the same time, we do believe that there are certain changes and certain problems we need to deal with on this path to the European Union – our bilateral relations issues, such as the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey, which is not a bilateral issue, but is a issue of respecting religious and human rights. And of course, Cyprus, which is – has divided our countries, because it is an island with a large number of occupying troops from the Turkish side. And we do need to liberate, I would say, this island from that type of activity and that type of a situation – allow the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots to create their own path and their own future.
Cyprus is now a member of the European Union, and I would just to reiterate that I have given my full support to President Demetris Christofias and his work to move ahead and continue the peace process, the process of negotiation for finding a just solution, one which will be a federated solution with a bi-zonal and bi-communal solution according to UN resolution. So very much support that the sooner the better, but of course, a just solution which will also be within the framework of the European (inaudible), the European law and legislation.
Finally, I will be meeting with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in the next few months. We haven’t yet set the date, but the – it will be very soon. And I do hope that this meeting will also signify and symbolize a renewal of our rapprochement, which we began some years ago, and dealing with issues such as the continental shelf. And therefore, I would like to see Greek-Turkish relations, Cyprus becoming a model of stability and peace, one – a model where we can work together and show the world that former foes can be the best of good partners in this globalizing world where we have huge issues to deal with. And there’s much more potential when we work together than when we work at odds with each other.
So thank you again, Hillary, for your --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so much, Prime Minister.
MR. CROWLEY: On the U.S. side, Arshad Mohammed from Reuters.
QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, what, if anything, can the United States do to help Greece through this period of financial instability? And Prime Minister Papandreou, what would you like to see your European partners do to try to reduce Greece’s borrowing costs? Would you like to see state-owned German or French banks starting to buy Greek Government debt? Would you like to see some kind of state debt guarantees for commercial banks that purchase your debt? And why should the market feel confident that – given the protests that one has seen in Greece, that Greek society is prepared to sustain the kind of tough measures that you have taken and that you have described today? Why should people feel confident that that will be a durable phenomenon?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER PAPANDREOU: Sure. Well, first of all, I would say that Greek society, citizens of Greece, know very well that we have a major challenge and we are taking measures to change our country. As a matter of fact, I was only recently elected, as you may know, and I was elected on a mandate of change.
So therefore, what we are doing in Greece is in fact what the Greek people in their wide majority have decided – making deeper changes, structural changes, making our economy, our society, more viable, more transparent, a whole developmental model, changing and moving to a green economy, which we think is going to be a very competitive economy. Just think of green islands, tourist islands which will have sustainable energy, renewable energy, Mediterranean food, high-quality tourism and so on. This is where we see, just to give you one example, the future of Greek economy, and not so far in the future, but quite soon.
Obviously, we had to take some immediate measures. These immediate measures we did responding to the desire – first, our desire but also the desire of our partners – that we show determination that we are ready to cut down our deficits, and in doing so, making sure that those who do lend us will have a – will be lending, will be investing in a viable economy and will be getting certain returns on their investment. This is, I think, what we had to do and we did do it.
What, of course, would be a problem would be if we continued to borrow at very high rates, beyond those that most of the European Union countries and the Eurozone countries certainly borrow at – twice, for example, the rates of Germany – that would be unsustainable, and that would be unsustainable within a common currency. We would not be able to become competitive. And therefore, what we are saying is we do need the support of the European Union if we see that speculation does not allow us to borrow at the right rates. We’re not asking for money. We’re not asking for bailouts. We’re simply saying what we want to be is equal partners, as we have taken these measures on the market to be able to get what others also can get, which is basically normal rates of borrowing.
Now there have been a number of ideas – I think now we’ve become much more specific – I don’t want to become specific because they haven’t been announced – of how one would have to do this. And the European Union, of course, is looking at this and countries around the European Union have the types of instruments which would be necessary if such – if Greece does have a problem. We may never have a problem. We may go out into the market and not have a problem of high borrowing rates next time we do so. But if we do so, there will be instruments which will help us deal with the – this type of speculation.
On the long – longer term, certainly Europe is now thinking of institutions such as guarantees or the EMF – that’s the European Monetary Fund or Eurobonds – but these, of course, will take somewhat more time as they also would need certain changes in the treaty – some of our treaties in the European Union.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, neither the prime minister nor Greece has asked the United States for anything. We support the steps that Greece is taking. We commend the prime minister and his government for moving quickly to put in place changes that are called for given the economic consequences of the fiscal situation that he inherited.
But what I think Greece is looking for, as the prime minister alluded to, is that the United States, working in the G-20, will make some of the changes in regulatory regimes governing some of these financial instruments that have been used to the detriment not only of Greece, but of other countries, including our own. The prime minister was saying that a year ago he had never heard of CDSs, credit-default swaps. Well, neither had we.
And so we’re all trying to focus on the immediate crises, as President Obama had to do when he came into office a little over a year ago, and as the prime minister is now doing, but then looking over the horizon so that we can avoid these kinds of consequences from an unregulated financial market that globally moves money at the speed of sound, if not light, and leaves in its wake all kinds of consequences that governments have to contend with.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, can you assess the Greek role in the Balkans? Many times, people from the U.S., the U.S. Administration, have called it a strategic partnership. The prime minister, personally he’s spearheading the effort of bringing the whole (inaudible) into the European Union a hundred years after the end of – or the beginning of World War I. What exactly – how exactly do you see the Greek role there – the leadership role, I assume, of --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I do see it as strategic. What the prime minister has labeled Agenda 2014 to work with the countries of the Western Balkans to help them be ready for membership in the Euro-Atlantic institutions is exactly the same strategic imperative that we see.
In addition to setting forth a strategy, however, Greece has been an absolutely essential partner in stabilizing the Balkans and continuing to provide very specific assistance in doing so. The Greek troops in Kosovo are a perfect example of that. The support in Bosnia-Herzegovina is another example of that. Working as a neighbor with the governments of the various countries to help them take decisions that will move toward this eventual integration – we not only welcome, but appreciate greatly the leadership that Greece is showing. And we share the same sense of importance that this is critical to future European peace, stability, and prosperity. So working together as partners and supporting Greece’s unilateral efforts is something that we are committed to doing.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.