Jack Lew: Restructure Greece’s debt should now become an actual policy

Meeting in Athens on Thursday, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and visiting U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew agreed on the necessity of significant debt relief for Greece and on its role as an inseparable part of the European Union.

In a brief dialogue before television cameras as Lew arrived at the Maximos Mansion for the start of the meeting with Tsipras, they also noted Greece’s role as a pillar of stability in the surrounding, fragile region.

It was important that a commitment in principle to restructure Greece’s debt should “now become an actual policy,” Lew said, since this would act to create certainty that “we are going forward.”

The fact that Greece remained a part of Europe was both geopolitically and economically important, Lew noted, adding that this was something that he always believed.

Tsipras also highlighted Greece’s geopolitical significance at a “troubled time for the region” and “a period of deep instability.”

“Now, more than ever, we need solidarity from our partners and now is the appropriate time to send the right messages to investors, to the markets, with substantial and solid measures to significantly relieve the debt, in order to support the economy and enhance Greece’s role as a pillar of stability in a fragile surrounding region,” he stressed.

Tsipras pointed out that Greece, in spite being at the centre of two parallel crises, the refugee and debt crisis, remained a pillar of stability and security, highlighting the deep irresponsibility of views adopted by some of its EU partners the previous year. The government’s own determination and decision to keep Greece in the Eurozone, by contrast, was now shown to have been responsible, he said.

“It was responsible for our people, for our country, for Europe and for the wider region,” Tsipras said, noting that the government had made difficult decisions, implemented tough but necessary reforms with determination, stabilised Greece’s economy, ensuring the sustainability of its pension system, reforming public administration and fighting corruption and tax evasion with signficant results.

During the meeting, Lew congratulated Tsipras on the extensive and difficult work done and the progress made over the last year, though noting that “more work needs to be done and it is important that Greece continue to implement the reforms that you described and makes progress in areas such as privatisations.”

Lew said he was looking forward to a discussion with Tsipras on the challenges facing Greece and to working together.

Posting on his twitter account regarding the meeting with Lew, Tsipras commented that “In spite of the crisis it has faced, Greece remains a pillar of security and stability in the region at a time of instability,” and added a second tweet stressing the need to reinforce Greece’s role.

The United States intends to take a leading role on the issue of Greece’s debt and aims for a deal to reduce the debt before the Obama administration has ended, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during the meeting in Athens on Thursday, according to sources.

Citing U.S. President Barack Obama, Lew noted that the Greek economic programme was not an end in itself and that its goal was to bring about economic growth and prosperity for the Greek people, the same sources said.

There is recognition and respect for the efforts of the Greek government and the Greek people to put the country and the economy onto a path of growth, Lew said, and the U.S. have for at least a year pointed out the great economic and geopolitical importance of Greece as a member of the European Union.

Under the current conditions, with developments in Turkey and the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the need for stability and growth in Greece was made even clearer, Lew was reported as saying.

The discussion covered possible areas of cooperation between Greece and the United States, with emphasis on stamping out tax evasion and prosecuting cross-border tax cases. Athens raised the issue of cooperation on the UBS case and asked for the assistance of the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI in order to investigate cases linked to UBS and related to tax evasion cases in Greece.

The U.S. Treasury Department official twitter account on Thursday retweeted two posts by Tsipras about his meeting with the U.S. Treasury Secretary in Athens, in what was seen as an indication of the positive atmosphere during the meeting and agreement on the need for significant debt relief for Greece.

The prime minister’s tweets are given below:

“Meeting in Athens with @USTreasury Secretary Mr. Jacob Lew. We agreed on the necessity of significant debt relief for Greece in order to support the economy and to reinforce Greece’s role as a pillar of stability in a fragile surrounding region”