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Biden Arrives in Crisis-hit Greece Amid Feelings of Anger and Hope

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived Sunday in Greece, as a new interim government seeks to halt the country’s economic upheaval that has had ripple effects across the globe.
Ahead of a critical week in the European debt crisis, Vice President Joe Biden warned that time was running out for European leaders to reach a solution, but expressed confidence that ultimately a sense of urgency will force them into one.
“I think the clearer it becomes that there’s no alternative and time is running out, not just in Europe but in the United States and the world at large, is when you’re more likely to get some very difficult decisions made,” Mr. Biden said Sunday in an interview with reporters traveling with him as he flew from Turkey to Greece.
Mr. Biden, who is scheduled to meet on Monday with Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and other senior government officials, said he didn’t know how much time European leaders had before the crisis deepens. But he stressed that the sooner they reached a solution, the more positive the outcome was likely to be. Biden will also meet with George Papandreou, leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, who stepped down as prime minister when Papdemos took over. In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria broadcast Sunday, Papandreou said, “The magnitude of changes we are making in this country we have never done over the past 30, 40 years.” (Read a transcript of Papandreou’s interview)
In Greece, Mr. Biden will be the most senior White House official to meet with Mr. Papademos since the prime minister took office last month amid a shakeup in Greece’s leadership. Mr. Biden is also scheduled to meet Monday with President Karolos Papoulias and other party leaders. Greece has been at the center of the debt crisis for months. Greece is in the middle of deep budget-cutting measures to meet requirements of a bailout plan crafted by European leaders under the leadership of Germany and France. As Mr. Biden’s motorcade rolled through Athens Sunday evening, some residents stood along the street held up their hands to show their palms, an insulting gesture in Greece.
As Mr. Biden talks with leaders in Greece, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are set to meet on Monday. European Central Bank officials gather on Thursday for a meeting that could produce lower interest rates, and the European Union will convene a two-day summit this week to try to work out a plan.
President Barack Obama, who has said the crisis in Europe is the biggest threat to the recovery of the U.S. economy, also dispatches Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to Germany, France and Italy this week to discuss additional ways the U.S. can help support the Europeans.
Mr. Biden didn’t offer any details on how the U.S. might further assist Europe. The U.S. has said euro-zone nations can afford to rescue their own members. While some European leaders want the International Monetary Fund to take on a larger role, the U.S.—the IMF’s largest shareholder—says those funds can only be used to supplement a bigger European package.
The vice president arrived in Athens after spending three days in Turkey, where he and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan discussed the possibility of economic aid and transitional assistance to Syria in the event that President Bashar al-Assad loses power.
Mr. Biden compared the situation in Europe to the one facing U.S. lawmakers in 2008, when many of them took politically damaging votes supporting a bailout of financial institutions.
“I think [European leaders] understand that the pain is only exceeded by the alternative if they don’t act,” Mr. Biden said.
“But it still requires some very difficult decisions,” he added. “And I know from experience over the last three years that making the right political judgments, the necessary political judgments, sometimes, many times, are not rewarded. They’re penalized.”
The steps ahead are aimed at creating a dynamic economy, he said, offering the optimistic assessment that Greece now has a “more sure prospect” of improving its economy.

 (Sources: CNN, Wall Street Journal, AP)

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