Joint Press Availability With Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Athens, Greece
July 17, 2011

FOREIGN MINISTER LAMBRINIDIS: (Via interpreter) Madam Secretary, welcome (inaudible) so it is my great pleasure to welcome Hillary Clinton here in Athens. I am very happy. I am especially happy because she is the first foreign minister to come to us after I have taken over, therefore you are lucky for us, Hillary.

Madam Secretary, I think that we have had very good talks, so we have touched upon many issues. Let me highlight the most important one. Greece and the U.S. are natural friends and allies, and I am not only talking about mutual economic interests, which are, of course, important, but I’m talking about our joint passion for freedom and liberty. And this is something which comes – overcomes national borders. Friends prove themselves in difficult times, and as we know, Greece is doing through difficult times right now. The United States (inaudible) firm and steadfast manner, in a decisive manner. We have – we believe that we shall come out of this difficulty victorious. Many on both sides of the Atlantic have bet on the collapse of Greece, and they have been proven wrong. We will continue to prove them wrong, and this – and to this, our collaboration will be very important.

We have also discussed the opportunities which appear in this country for investment, for tourism, which we expect and we hope will interest – is of interest to everybody in this hall. We have also discussed issues relating to our normal job, the foreign affairs issues. We have reviewed the discussions, political discussions and the Contact Group for Libya. We will be in touch and we will be in touch in September in our efforts to revise the peace process.

We have also talked about the Balkans, which is a top priority for Greece, but this is a vision which we share with the U.S.. We want peace, stability, and security in our region. We want to do away with the nationalist feelings of the past and for all the countries in the region to build a relationship of cooperation under our joint European home. I have told the Secretary of State that instead of trying to rewrite history, this is a good opportunity for us to write history, to make history, and this is something we should all try to achieve.

Also, we have the 2014 agenda which we have also discussed. I also had the opportunity of informing the Secretary about the negotiations on the Cyprus issue. I believe that it is possible to make progress, but this, of course, mainly requires political will on the – on behalf of Ankara. We have also discussed the efforts to normalize Greek-Turkish relations, the progress achieved, the remaining difficulties. And I am especially happy in conclusion, my dear Hillary – I’m especially happy to say that later on today we will be signing an MOU to do away with the smuggling of antiquities. And with this opportunity, we will have – we will visit the Acropolis museum together with my friend, minister of culture of Greece.

Ladies and gentlemen, here beside me stands a lady who is a friend of Greece, a friend of Hellenism, a person who has forged strong bonds of trust with the Greek-American community, which is a permanent bond linking Greece to the United States. Welcome to Greece, Madam Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Stavros, and it is a great pleasure for me to be here for this meeting, and I am greatly honored that I am your first foreign minister visitor. But you are becoming quickly a veteran in just one month in office. And I am also pleased to be here during these challenging times to demonstrate unequivocally the strong support that the United States has for Greece. We know that we are your friend and we are your ally and we are proud to be both. We stand by the people and Government of Greece as you put your country back on a path to economic stability and prosperity.

It is, for us, essential because we have a lot riding on our relationship together. As a NATO ally, we appreciate Greece’s partnership on a shared agenda that spans the globe. The foreign minister and I have just completed a very productive conversation, not just about Greece’s immediate challenges but about the full range of issues that form the core of our enduring alliance. We discussed our ongoing efforts in the NATO coalition operations to protect civilians and help the Libyan people claim a better future. Our diplomatic and military efforts are gaining momentum, and we are grateful for Greece’s engagement and support, especially your willingness to host coalition military assets at Souda Bay and other sites close to Libya.

We also are concerned about what’s going on in Syria, and we have condemned the violence. And I appreciate Greece’s support in speaking strongly against the attack on our Embassy and the French Embassy in Damascus. We will work together as part of the international community to support a vision for a Syria with representative government, respect for civil liberties, equal protection for all citizens under the law.

We will also continue to work with Greece to support democratic transitions across the Middle East and North Africa. We commend the Greek Government for seeking a constructive approach in consultation with the United Nations to addressing the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza and working to avoid the risks that come with attempts to sail directly to Gaza.

At a moment when domestic issues are rightly taking center stage here in Greece, we remain grateful for Greece’s continued engagement in meeting the shared challenges we confront. I appreciate the work that Prime Minister Papandreou and the government are doing to resolve many longstanding issues and integrate the Western Balkans into European and transatlantic institutions.

Now, of course, Greece and the United States are bound together by far more than our shared challenges. We are bound together by our shared values. In fact, we are grateful for Greece’s contribution to those values and their enduring legacy. Millions of Americans claim Greek ancestry, and last year President Obama was pleased to welcome Prime Minister Papandreou to the White House to celebrate Greece’s entry into our Visa Waiver Program. That makes it easier for Greeks to visit family and friends in the United States. And later today, as the minister said, we will be signing a cultural preservation agreement to make it more difficult for looters and smugglers to make that same trip carrying Greece’s historic treasures. That will protect tourism and ensure that the remarkable cultural heritage of this country remains in the hands of the Greek people.

And finally let me say just a few words about the economic situation in Greece. Americans know these are difficult days, and again, we stand with you as friends and allies. The United States strongly supports the Papandreou’s government’s determination to make the necessary reforms, to put Greece back on sound financial footing, and to make Greece more competitive economically. Committing to bring down the deficit and passing the medium-term fiscal strategy were vital first steps. We know these were not easy decisions. They were acts of leadership. And those acts of leadership will help to build a better economic future.

Now the challenge will be to keep moving forward with the same determination and commitment to make good on the fiscal targets and continue to deliver reform that drives future growth. Now, in many cases, these changes will require immediate and sustained implementation. And while the payoff for these sacrifices may not come quickly, it will come. We know that. We can look around the world and point to successful examples. And we also know that the price of inaction would have been far higher now and far into the future. The steps ahead will not, they cannot, be pain-free, but there is a path forward to resolve Greece’s economic stability and to restore Greece’s economic strength. I have faith in the resilience of the Greek people and I applaud the Greek Government on its willingness to take these difficult steps. Greece has inspired the world before, and I have every confidence that you are doing so again. And as you do what you must to bring your economy back to health, you will have the full support of the United States.

And so again, Minister, thank you for this opportunity to visit with you and thank you also for this chance to express from my heart our strong support for what Greece and particularly the Greek people are facing, but also to reiterate our confidence that this will be the path forward that will pay off, not only now but for generations to come.

QUESTION: Good morning, Madam Secretary. You have said that rising deficits are a national security issue for the United States, so it’s presumably also the case for Greece and parts of the EU. Are you concerned that the Europe crisis, the debt crisis, might undercut NATO’s ability to finance its missions? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Christophe, I am not. I think the NATO alliance is undergoing some very important analysis about how we will continue to be the strongest military and operational alliance in the history of the world. The NATO allies know how important this alliance is to our own security and to those problems that are over the horizon but which affect the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic community. So yes, will there be some changes that we will foresee in the future? Of course. What has made NATO such a strong, vibrant, enduring alliance is that we have had to evolve and reform our own internal processes from time to time. But the United States not only has great confidence in NATO, we are committed to the fulfillment of the strategic vision that was adopted unanimously at the Lisbon summit and which we think provides the foundation for what needs to be done in the future.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I have a question to both of you. You referred to the economic crisis. Both the U.S. and Europe are suffering because of an economic crisis. This – last year we were talking about Greek crisis. This year we’re talking about European crisis. You did mention some things, nevertheless society is feeling gloomy, and I would like to ask you politicians can you offer an optimistic message to society, tell people that what they are sacrificing will pay off?

FOREIGN MINISTER LAMBRINIDIS: (Via interpreter) There is no question that today’s Greece has nothing to do whatsoever with Greece of two years ago. There is no question that despite the doomsayers, we are proceeding and that we shall come out of this victorious. Of course, we have no magic solutions, but there is no question the sacrifices that the Greek people have made have not only done away with the very real past risk of default but will create a sound basis for recovery.

And of course, we need the Greek measures, but we also need European solidarity. The European solidarity, which we believe and hope will express itself in a key manner in the near future, is very important because in a united Europe, hope or the light at the end of the tunnel is not about each individual country, but it is about our immense economic power when we all stand together more than 500 million people in 27 countries. This message was a bit lost on – was almost lost in some member-states recently, but the fact that Greece has regained in credibility with the sacrifices and the important measures that we are taking has brought us back to the forefront of – to the center of discussion and has brought us, I believe, at the forefront of a Europe of growth which will offer jobs to our citizens, to their citizens.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, I agree with what the minister said, and let me just put it into context from what we see looking from the United States toward Greece. We believe that the recent legislation that was passed will make Greece more competitive, will make Greece more business-friendly. We think that is essential for the kind of growth and recovery that is expected in the 21st century when businesses can go anywhere in the world and capital can follow. We think that will provide a firm financial footing on which Greece will be able increasingly to attract businesses and create the jobs that Stavros said are absolutely important for the Greek people. Because businesses seek consistent, predictable regulatory and taxation regimes. Investors seek a level playing field. They expect transparency, streamlined procedures, protection of commercial and intellectual property rights, effective contract enforcement, all of which was part of your reform package.

Therefore, I am not here to in any way downplay the immediate challenges, because they are real, but I am here to say that we believe strongly that this will give Greece a very strong economy going forward. There are lots of analogies – having to take the strong medicine that tastes terrible when it goes down and you wish you didn’t have to, or the chemotherapy to get rid of the cancer. There are all kinds of analogies. But the bottom line is this is the best approach and we strongly support it.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAMBRINIDIS: Thank you very much. Hillary, thank you so much.

PRN: 2011/T51-07