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Obama Pledges Friendship To Debt-Riddled Greece

  • Kent Klein

President Barack Obama has told visiting Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou the U.S. will work with Greece, which is struggling with massive debt. Both leaders spoke at a White House reception, hours after meeting in the Oval Office.

Prime Minister Papandreou said President Obama reacted positively to European proposals to crack down on currency speculation, which the Greek leader blamed for his country's debt crisis.

Mr. Obama did not directly mention the financial problems in Greece, but said the U.S. will stand by its ally.

"Now, like his father and his grandfather before him, the prime minister is leading Greece through challenging times," said President Obama. "But as I told him during our meeting in the Oval Office today, whether in good times or in bad times, the people of Greece will always have a friend and a partner in the United States of America."

Mr. Papandreou, speaking in English, said his country is taking extraordinary steps to fight its rampaging debt.

"I can assure you, Mr. President, as I can assure the Greek-American community, we are doing what it takes, with determination and credibility, to steer our economy on a new path, a viable path, for the future," said George Papandreou.

The Greek leader said his government is revamping its public administration, its health and education systems and its tax system, as well as cutting bureaucracy.

Shortly after his Socialist party took office in October, Mr. Papandreou revealed that Greece's budget deficit was far worse than the previous government had admitted.

The prime minister is visiting the U.S. and three other countries, seeking support for more favorable interest rates for loans. Earlier in the day, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration believes Greece's debt crisis should be solved by the European Union.

Later, at the reception, President Obama thanked Mr. Papandreou for his initiatives to extend security and stability in his region.

"Toward a just and final settlement in Cyprus, fully integrating the Balkans into Europe, and the prime minister's personal work to improve relations with Turkey," said Mr. Obama. "We thank you."

The president also acknowledged the administration's announcement that Greece has been added to a list of countries whose citizens do not need visas for tourist visits to the U.S.

"Greece's participation in the visa waiver program will strengthen security in both our countries," he said. "And whether it is to do business or to visit family and friends, it will now be easier for our Greek friends to visit the United States."

Prime Minister Papandreou also met Tuesday with U.S. lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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