WASHINGTON – The visiting Greek prime minister will get Washington's support for his country's struggles to pull out of a deep economic crisis when he meets President Obama on Thursday.
But on the morning of the meeting, there was another grim reminder of the severity of Greece's 6-year-old recession -- new government data showed unemployment hitting a record high of 27.6 percent in May.
The White House said Obama's meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' will "underscore our ongoing support for Greece's efforts to reform its economy and promote a return to prosperity."
Since 2010, Greece has been surviving on money from a $319 billion bailout package put together by the Washington-based International Monetary Fund and European lenders.
The IMF said last week that Greece has made "exceptional" progress in stabilizing its finances but still needs to undertake major structural changes to its economy, such as collecting more taxes and selling off state-owned enterprises to raise more revenue. The IMF also said Greece is facing an $11 billion shortfall in 2014-15 to finance its bailout program and will likely need more aid from its European partners to plug that hole.
Vice President Joe Biden, in an interview with the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, said the U.S. has a stake in Greece's success and an interest in seeing it remain within the 17-nation bloc of countries that use the euro currency. At the height of the crisis, there was talk that Greece might need to pull out of the eurozone bloc.
"The president and I are acutely aware that the Greek people are living through an incredibly difficult period as they cope with the economic crisis that has lasted four years and has required enormous sacrifice. The United States continues to believe that the reforms Greece is making are essential to creating a more prosperous future for its people, but we are deeply empathetic to the cost they exact," Biden was quoted as saying.
The White House said the economy won't be the only topic on the agenda. The two leaders will also discuss defense cooperation, a proposed free trade agreement between the U.S. and Europe, counterterrorism, prospects for a settlement in Cyprus, and developments in North Africa, and Syria.
Samaras will also meet Secretary of State John Kerry. He conferred with Wall Street investors in New York behind closed doors on Wednesday.