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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With Alexis Papahelas of SKAI TV


Interview
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ambassador's Residence
Athens, Greece
July 17, 2011

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QUESTION: Well, Madam Secretary, it is a pleasure to see you in Athens.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview. Let me ask you, first of all, what is the main message that you carry with you?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It is a message of support and solidarity with the Greek Government, and most importantly, the Greek people, as you go through this very difficult period. We think what has already been done is important. But we know more also has to occur, with privatization and tax reform. But I want people in Greece to understand that we recognize the difficulty of these decisions, we know that there will be painful sacrifices, but we are absolutely confident that Greece will emerge from them even stronger.

And the future for Greece is so filled with potential, because of your strategic location in a part of the world that is changing so rapidly, that I came with a message of real hope that this can be done, and done in a way that will strengthen Greece, and for years to come.

QUESTION: Now, I know that you like talking to the average person on the street. The last time, before your visit with consulate, I was (inaudible), so you could talk about (inaudible). There are a lot of angry people here in Greece. They are angry at the market, they are angry at the rating agencies, they are angry at their politicians. If you had the chance to meet with one of them, what would you say to them?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well that I understand the anger and the deep concern that the global economy has presented to all of us. We have angry people in my own country right now. And I am a very sympathetic person to what people are going through.

But you cannot deny the reality of what must be done. I used the analogy this morning with the foreign minister. If you are given a diagnosis of cancer, you could be angry or you could seek treatment. And sometimes the treatment makes you sick before it makes you well. And radiation, chemo, those are terrible things for the body to go through. But what we have learned is that, if you are willing to do that, very often in today's modern world with modern medicine, you can be cured.

Well, what we know now about the global economy is that we cannot escape from it, and it is a hard task master. So the kinds of physical disciplinary policies that the current government is pushing are a necessary medicine. Does anybody like it? Of course not. But there is no alternative. Because Greece is an essential part of Europe. It has benefitted from its membership in the European Union and the euro. And now there are steps that must be taken.

But it is not only for the government to take them. I have been talking with government officials, but I also have, as you know, many Greek-American friends. And it is clear that there are steps that individuals have to take, as well. But it will be in the best interest not only of the nation, but of the people, if this pathway that has been laid out can be followed now.

QUESTION: Well, as you know, there has been a lot of (inaudible) depends on what kind of measures to be taken, and so on. Of course you have the same problem with (inaudible). Do you think that (inaudible), and do you think it's actually compatible, to have a working (inaudible) and also to be able to (inaudible) compete with China, and India, and everybody else?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. I mean here we are, in the birthplace of democracy, and there is, in my opinion, no doubt that functioning democracies with transparent governments, with the consent of the governed, with the kind of responsible decision-making that Greece is exhibiting now, are, for the long run, in much stronger positions, not only economically, but also where we all live and feel, and our individuals rights and freedoms. There are other systems in the world. But no one that I know of would want to change places to take up where others are, because you would sacrifice so much.

So, yes. Are we testing democracies today? Are we testing political leadership, and whether or not people actually want to solve the problems or just exacerbate it for their own personal and party-political gains? That is, unfortunately, all too common across the world in our democracies. But it is, by far, the best system. Winston Churchill's famous old saying is, "The worst system that has ever been devised, except for all the others."

Well, as hard as it is to get people in a room, to make the compromise, to decide on a consensus, it is the best approach. And what the government here did in getting the votes necessary to move forward was a great tribute to the Greek political system. And I am very admiring of how hard that was, because I am, as you know, a recovering politician. I spent a lot of my time in the political trenches. So I know how difficult it is.

But this is what leaders are for. These are the historic moments that test whether one is a leader or just a politician. And we see leadership from the prime minister here, leadership from our President back home, leadership in those who are stepping up and accepting responsibility. It is not of the current generation's making; they inherited a lot of this. But it is up to them to resolve it. And I don't think there is any better alternative.

QUESTION: I know you (inaudible). And I wonder, can the Greek people expect anything (inaudible) assistance from the U.S. Or perhaps investments, once the systemic risk is over and the country is stabilized? Do you see any of that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course. And because the United States is the single largest contributor to the IMF, the IMF assistance that is coming to Greece is very much a part of America's commitment.

But we also -- and I have been trying to send this message -- want to see more American businesses invest in Greece. We think there are great opportunities. It is not only the beauty and the tourism, the hospitality industries that can benefit. But I think Greece is well poised in clean, renewable energy. Some countries are going to capture this market. They are going to be market centered, as leaders. Greece can do that. And I think there are investments that Americans would be interested in.

I also think that as you have reformed your business sector with more transparency, more contract enforcement, making it possible for businesses to feel as though they are on a level playing field with Greek and other businesses, I think that will be very attractive to American business.

So, both from the public side, with our commitment to the IMF, and on the private sector side, we think there is opportunity here, and we want to be part of making that happen.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) There are various reports about the large reserves of natural gas or even oil (inaudible). Do you give any credence to those? (Inaudible) business community?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Absolutely. And they aren't yet well documented, but I think that exploration is beginning, and we encourage that. There are also ways that Greece can become a hub for conventional energy with oil and gas and pipelines that would be transacting or transecting Greece.

So, yes, and we have encouraged American companies to look at this. We know about the big gas finds off of Israel and Lebanon. And it seems that Mother Nature has her way, and it may take a long time, but all of the development of gas and oil fields that we are discovering around the world, it seems like there are very geographic limits to them.

QUESTION: Well, our whole area is changing (inaudible) what is happening in Syria, and what is happening in Libya, and so on. Has this changed your political view of Greece, or Greek relations with Turkey, or Greek relations with Israel? How do you see this whole (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you are right, that this has been a time of very rapid change in the Middle East and north Africa. And if you just look at the map, and where Greece is situated, its strategic advantage is apparent. There is work to be done, work to ensure that you continue the efforts to try to resolve Greek-Turkish problems, that there be the continuing efforts on the unfinished business of the western Balkans, that we all work to try to support the transitions going on in Egypt, in Libya, Tunisia.

But I don't think there is any doubt that with Greece's strong strategic location, coupled with your historic relations with these countries in the Mediterranean, that there is a great opportunity here for Greece, which is why, as we were discussing with the ministers with whom I met, if you think about the industries of the future -- and energy will certainly continue to be one -- how Greece positions itself on renewables, on clean energy, and on traditional sources of energy, will be a major impact on what will happen in the region.

So, yes. I think that Greece is very well positioned, and that is why I hope that, as the Greek people go through this economic crisis, you don't lose sight of what is over the horizon. Because getting through this crisis, making the reforms that are necessary, will really strengthen you.

Other countries have gone through these kinds of changes. I think of South Korea, which is now, I think, the 12th largest economy, it is a member of the G-20, it is absolutely on very strong economic footing and exercising influence around the world. Brazil went through IMF restructuring. If you could look around the world, you could see there is a direct line from taking the medicine, making a hard decision, and the kind of pay-off, economically, that other countries are enjoying.

QUESTION: Coming from Turkey -- you were there for two days --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you see any potential for sort of real progress in Greek-Turkish relations, or do you think these are not compatible (inaudible)?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, I do. I don't think that the diplomatic efforts should be shelved during the economic crisis. I think you need to be proceeding on both tracks. And I really believe that there is an opening here.

I know that Prime Minister Papandreou has already met with and visited with Prime Minister Erdogan and the Turkish leaders. And I encouraged him to continue that, even though I know that he has to put the economic challenge first and foremost, because I think that helps Greece. I think in the medium-term, not just the long-term, working to resolve Greek-Turkish tensions and a lot of the leftover issues from the past, clears the path for Greece to play that strategic leadership role in the region that I think you can.

QUESTION: Well, finally, let me ask you -- as you know, there is another issue, the famous issue (inaudible). And now, you have been talk to the (inaudible) Skopje. Do you see any sense of having progress there, or --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have made it very clear that we support the negotiations that have gone on between Skopje and Athens. We think that there is an opportunity here. And the government in Skopje needs to know that it will not be able to move forward on its European integration until it does resolve this. And, obviously, Greece has to be willing to accept how the name is resolved.

So, we have encouraged as strongly as we can that this matter be finally taken care of. Whether that will happen or not, we will have to wait and see.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a lot of (inaudible). Are you really concerned about (inaudible) in the next few months?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it matters, what Greece does now. I think half of the package that was required has been passed. It is beginning to be implemented. But the other half has not yet been carried through. And if you look at it, the need for tax reform, a broader tax base, ending special favors, trying to make sure that Greece has the resources that it needs, that is a very important piece of it. And I know it is hard, but it has to be done.

So, I think that a fair assessment would be Greece has come a long way, but is not yet where it needs to be, in order to reassure the markets, to avoid the kind of economic disaster that could occur, and to reassure your own citizens that you are on a path that will pay off for them. Because, ultimately, that is what people have to believe.

And there will always be opposition, there will always be naysayers. You cannot please everybody in a democracy; everyone knows that. But you have to make the case that what you are doing is not to satisfy some bond holder or satisfy some European government, or the IMF. You are doing what you must do in order to secure the future of Greece, and the next generation of young Greeks. And I don't think there is any doubt that you can do that. I have absolute confidence that you can. But it is not going to be easy, and everybody just needs to take a deep breath here and begin to do everything you can -- not just in the government, but in the citizenry -- to move this along, and try to make the tough decisions that are necessary.

QUESTION: And so that will be your message to (inaudible) when you see him.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, it will be. It is my message to everyone, my public and my private message.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Appreciate it. (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. My pleasure.



PRN: 2011/T51-12



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