Trump hails Greece's economic revival at White House meeting

President Donald Trump, right, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, participate in a working lunch in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump, right, meets with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump reaffirmed the United States' commitment to Greece's economic recovery at the White House on Tuesday, a meeting that allowed the country's prime minister to brush aside rough comments he made about Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Trump, joining with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said Greece had "gone through a lot" during its extended period of economic hardships but vowed that the U.S. would remain steadfast as the country executes its debt-relief plan.

"The American people stand with the Greek people as they recover from the economic crisis that recently afflicted their nation," Trump said alongside Tsipras in the Rose Garden. He added, "A strong and flourishing Greece provides immense opportunity for American trade, investment and job creation."

Greece has relied on international bailouts since 2010 to address hardships during the recent economic recession. In exchange, the country imposed painful spending cuts, tax hikes and reforms.

Eurozone officials have said Greece and its European creditors are on a good path to completing bailout talks with a view to a "clean exit" from strict fiscal supervision.

During a joint news conference, Tsipras was asked about his stinging statement about Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, when the left-leaning Greek leader warned that Trump represented an "evil" set of ideas.

Tsipras, flashed a smile and laughed after he was asked about his comments, prompting Trump to joke, "I wish I knew that before my speech." The Greek leader said the two leaders had a productive exchange, and "not a moment did I feel threatened at any time" during their encounter. He predicted a "very fertile outlook" for their relationship.

The talks focused heavily on economic ties, energy and defense. Tsipras said his country had made economic strides and is "leaving behind the economic model that led to the crisis."

Trump, for his part, noted that Greece was among the NATO members that spends at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on the military, a key demand for the president. He also cited a potential $2.4 billion sale of aircraft to Greece to upgrade its F-16 fighters, which he said would generate thousands of U.S. jobs.

Greece is emerging from an eight-year financial crisis, with the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and others predicting a return to growth this year. With large privatization items still on the government agenda and a gradual return to bond markets planned over the next year, Greece is keen to attract U.S. investors.

The meeting allowed both leaders to set aside the past.

Trump tweeted in the fall of 2012 that Greece should get out of the euro and go back to its own currency, adding, "they are just wasting time." But this time he praised Greece's efforts to recover, predicting in the Oval Office, "they're doing a terrific job of coming back."

Tsipras sought to move past his comments in Athens in 2016, while Trump was a candidate, when he spoke of Trump's "threat to become even President — I hope we will not face this evil."

Now standing alongside Trump, Tsipras said the two countries shared the "values of freedom and democracy" and their talks would help "enhance our strategic partnership."

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Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed to this report.

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On Twitter, follow Ken Thomas at @KThomasDC.

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