Americans have had seven days to come to terms with the election of Donald Trump as president. The Greeks have been dealing with their debt crisis for seven years.
But the meeting of President Obama and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipris was so focused on the debt crisis that Trump didn’t come up until the end of their joint press conference in Athens Tuesday.
“To be honest, I know very little of Donald Trump,” Tsipris said, though he noted Trump’s reputation for “his aggressive manner and the manner in which he defended some unconventional points of view.”
“Some have told me that I should have read his book before going to bargain in Brussels,” the headquarters of the European Union. He confessed that he didn’t read The Art of the Deal “but I don’t know if that was decisive to the result.”
Tsipris gave a long defense of his government’s handling of the debt crisis, which has resulted in austerity measures that have caused the Greek economy to contract by a quarter. “After seven years, people cannot take any more austerity,” he said. He said Obama’s handling of the U.S. economy, which focused on stimulus and job growth, was a model that Europe should follow.
“I know it’s a painful and difficult time, especially for Greek workers and families, pensioners and young people,” Obama said. He argued thatr austerity was not a sustainable strategy, and that Greece “needs the space to return to growth and start creating jobs again.”
During the campaign, Trump distressed NATO allies by suggesting that the United States could pare back its commitment to the 67-year-old treaty organization. Trump complained that European allies weren’t paying their fair share on defense (Greece is one of five who do) and suggested that NATO is still stuck in a Cold War mentality unsuited to the modern-day threat of terrorism.
Greek leaders seemed to accept Obama’s reassurances. During a ceremonial courtesy call, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos thanked Obama for his support of Greece during the debt crisis. “I am certain that your successor … will continue on the same path,” he said.
On the agenda in Greece were many of the economic and social issues roiling Europe — many of which are felt most acutely in Greece. The country is facing a double-whammy of crushing debt and an influx of migrants fleeing the Middle East. The Obama administration has also been trying to help resolve a 42-year dispute over control of the island nation of Cyprus.
“This is ultimately a negotiation between Cypriots: Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots,” Obama said. He said the prospects for those negotiations “are the best that they’ve been in some time.”
On Wednesday, Obama will tour the Acropolis and give a speech to the Greek people about forces of globalization that have led to the rise of populist movements like the one that elected Trump.