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(Updates with Clinton comments from signing of memorandum of understanding in sixth and seventh paragraphs)
July 17 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Greece for its austerity measures, calling them “vital first steps” and urging the country’s leaders to continue efforts to resolve the country’s debt crisis.
“We know these were not easy decisions, they were acts of leadership,” Clinton said today in Athens, where she appeared with Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis. She said her visit was meant “to demonstrate unequivocally the strong support the United States has for Greece.”
“We stand by the people and government of Greece as you put your country back on a path to economic stability and prosperity,” Clinton said. “We have a lot riding on our relationship together.”
Clinton is in Greece for a two-day visit to show support for the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou. European leaders are seeking a solution for Greece as the debt crisis the country touched off in 2009 threatened Italy this week. Euro- area members will hold an emergency meeting July 25 to plan a second rescue package for Greece.
Lambrinidis said the country will “come out of this difficulty victorious.”
“Many on both sides of the Atlantic have bet on the collapse of Greece and we have proved them wrong and we will continue to prove them wrong,” the Greek minister said.
‘Firm Financial Footing’
Clinton reiterated her message at a signing ceremony later in the day at the Acropolis Museum, where she said the U.S. would stand beside Greece. “We are confident that the nation that built the Parthenon, invented democracy and inspired the world can rise to the challenge,” she said.
The two countries agreed that cultural exports to the U.S. will only take place if the objects have been certified as legal for export by Greece.
Clinton said the future “will not be pain free” for Greece and that the price of inaction would have been even higher. Legislation passed by the country to help solve the debt crisis “will provide a firm financial footing on which Greece will be able to attract businesses and create the jobs that are essential for the Greek people,” Clinton said.
“The challenge will be to keep moving forward with the same determination and commitment” to deliver reform that drives economic growth, Clinton said. “While the payoff for these sacrifices may not come quickly, it will come.”
She praised the legislation for including measures to build business confidence, such as elements to increase transparency, streamline procedures and effectively enforce contracts.
Lambrinidis said that because of those measures Greece had “regained in credibility” and those sacrifices had brought the country “to the forefront of job creation.”
Clinton said that the debt crisis did not pose a threat to national security or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on June 10 that NATO risked “collective military irrelevance” unless Europe contributed more to the alliance’s operations.
“The NATO alliance is undergoing some very important analysis about how we will continue to be the strongest military and operational alliance in the world,” she said.
Clinton also meets today with President Karolos Papoulias and Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos. Her stop in Greece is her second on a globe-spanning 12-day trip that will take her to India, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China. She has already spent two days in Turkey.
--With assistance from Tom Stoukas and Marcus Bensasson in Athens and Tony Czuczka in Berlin. Editors: Paul Jarvis, Guy Collins.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Athens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at email@example.com