Obama spokesman welcomes Greek vote

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

The White House pressed Greece to form a new government quickly to tackle the country's deep economic woes after voters there gave a narrow edge on Sunday to political parties that support keeping the country in Europe's common currency.

The results of the closely watched parliamentary election could help calm world markets that had feared Greeks would vote to leave the euro-zone and reject painful austerity measures. Greece's creditors have required those belt-tightening steps in return for some $300 billion in financial bailout loans to keep the country from a financial collapse -- one that that could have catastrophic repercussions for the world economy.

But while President Barack Obama's press secretary Jay Carney congratulated Greece on holding the vote, his statement made clear this was no time for a sigh of relief, much less a victory lap.

"We hope this election will lead quickly to the formation of a new government that can make timely progress on the economic challenges facing the Greek people," Carney said.

"As President Obama and other world leaders have said, we believe that it is in all our interests for Greece to remain in the euro area while respecting its commitment to reform," the spokesman added. "Going forward, we will engage Greece in the spirit of partnership that has guided our alliance and the friendship between our people."

The results were sure to place high on the agenda at the Group of 20 summit, a gathering of leaders from 20 countries that together account for the bulk of the world economy, as well as global trade and population. Obama was to leave Chicago late Sunday to attend those talks, held in the Oceanside Mexican resort of Los Cabos.

Some people visit Los Cabos to "leave the cares of everyday life behind." But Obama is going there to confront more fully one of the cares that could sink his presidency — the European financial crisis. And he can forget about escaping other major foreign policy headaches like the tense standoff over Iran's nuclear program, or violence in Syria.

The president's agenda also includes his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the former KGB officer won reelection. Relations between Washington and Moscow have frayed badly over Syria. White House officials briefing reporters this week predicted the exchange on Monday would be "candid" — a diplomatic term of art that basically means "they're going to have it out." Obama will sit down separately on Tuesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The Obama Administration does not expect that the G20 summit will yield major new action by European leaders. But top officials hope for a clearer sense of what new steps European leaders plan to take to address their economic crisis -- which could dampen the already sputtering American economic recovery and doom Obama's chances for a second term.

"Los Cabos provides a timely opportunity for European leaders to update on their progress and to serve as a catalyst for future action, looking ahead to their council meeting at the end of June," Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard told reporters on Friday.