By Carol E. Lee and Nektaria Stamouli
ATHENS -- President Barack Obama, urging Europe to resolve lingering issues from its debt crisis, said on Tuesday that leaders should favor growth over austerity despite growing political uncertainty across the continent and in the U.S.
Mr. Obama made the pitch as he met with Greek leaders during his first trip to the country as president.
It is "a challenging time around the world," particularly for Greece, Mr. Obama said as he met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, adding that he would continue to "emphasize that austerity alone" can't facilitate economic prosperity.
Mr. Tsipras said Mr. Obama's decision to visit Greece during his final foreign trip as president "can send many important messages."
One of the messages Mr. Obama is seeking to send to European leaders is assurance that the upset victory of Donald Trump in last week's presidential election won't imperil the U.S.'s alliances and key policies.
With just two months left in office, Mr. Obama isn't expected to make major policy strides during his weeklong trip to Greece, Germany and Peru. He chose to make two stops in Europe to underscore his concerns about the economic and security future of the continent, White House officials said.
Messrs. Obama and Tsipras are set to hold a joint news conference after their meeting. The U.S. leader will also attend a state dinner Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday Mr. Obama will tour the Acropolis before delivering a speech that will "focus on the important work that's been done to try to address the economic challenges in Greece and Europe and around the world," said Ben Rhodes, one of the president's deputy national security advisers.
Greece's government hopes Mr. Obama's visit will raise pressure on its international creditors, especially Germany, Europe's dominant lender, to offer substantial debt relief. Mr. Obama is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as other major European leaders, in Berlin later this week.
According to Greek officials, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told Mr. Tsipras during a visit to Athens in July that the U.S. would like Greece's debt relief issue to be resolved before the end of its term.
The Obama administration was eager to prevent Greece's exit from the eurozone during the tense negotiations in 2015 that brought Greece close to the brink of financial meltdown. Since then, Washington has been trying to help broker a compromise between Greece and its creditors on how to reduce the country's debt burden.
Mr. Trump's election cameas a shock to Greece, which, like most European governments, had hoped Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would win and continue with much of Mr. Obama's foreign-policy agenda. In his sparse references to Greece before being elected, Mr. Trump has said the eurozone debt crisis isn't the U.S.'s problem and that European countries need to sort out Greece themselves.
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos expressed hope for policy continuity when the U.S. transitions to a Trump administration in January.
"I'm certain that his successor Donald Trump will continue on the same path of cooperation," Mr. Pavlopoulos said.
Mr. Tsipras is hoping for a strong statement from Mr. Obama in support of Greek debt relief while he is in Athens. Germany, however, has so far said relieving Greece's debt isn't a pressing issue, and Greece must first complete its tough program of economic overhauls.
Talks between Mr. Obama and the Greek government also covered the migration crisis. Greece has been the main gateway into Europe for refugees and other migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
This year's closure of Balkan borders to migrants has left tens of thousands stranded in Greece. Migrants from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa continue to attempt dangerous sea crossings to Europe.
Mr. Obama's visit to Athens is expected to feature protests by anarchists, far-left groups and trade unions, who have called rallies despite a two-day ban on public gatherings in central Athens.
The Greek Communist Party called for mass participation in a Tuesday-afternoon march against the "representative of the imperialist powers."
Write to Carol E. Lee at email@example.com and Nektaria Stamouli at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 15, 2016 09:11 ET (14:11 GMT)
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