IOWA CITY, Iowa -- European leaders should “exert every effort” to forge a new bailout deal that keeps Greece in the eurozone and allows the indebted country to recover economically, Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.
“I think it is imperative that there be an agreement worked out with Greece,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in response to a reporter's question at a campaign stop in Iowa City. “And I urge the Europeans to exert every effort to find one. Greece is a NATO ally, it is a member of the European Union. The United States has a great, active, successful Greek-American community. So I want to see a resolution.”
"Obviously at the end of the day, it is up to the Greek people to decide what they are willing to do," Clinton added. “And I hope we can see an outcome here that will actually help Greece recover and keep them in the eurozone and keep Europe united.”
While the former secretary of state did not comment directly on the results of Sunday's referendum, in which Greece overwhelmingly rejected a new austerity proposal from its international creditors, she expressed sympathy for the country's economic plight.
“I think what has happened in Greece is a tragedy,” Clinton said Tuesday, in a rare instance of taking reporters' questions on the campaign trail. “Their gross national product has dropped over 25 percent. They have youth unemployment over 50 percent. People are suffering. Pensioners are worried that they are not going to be able to afford food.”
The comments are Clinton’s first remarks on the Greek crisis since she began her presidential run. They mark something of a departure from previous statements, in which she offered less qualified support for the loans-for-austerity packages that European creditors have negotiated with Greece. In a 2011 visit to Athens while serving as secretary of state, Clinton described Europe’s insistence on fiscal austerity in Greece much more favorably, calling it “chemotherapy” that will “give Greece a very strong economy going forward."
Clinton’s remarks on Tuesday echo the approach of the Obama administration, which has acknowledged the Greek people's desire for economic relief while calling on both sides to compromise and reach a resolution that keeps Greece in the eurozone. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama spoke to both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to convey the United States’ desire for mutual compromise.
But Clinton’s statement distinguishes her stance from that of rival Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In a forceful statement on Sunday, Sanders celebrated the Greek people’s rejection of the creditors’ austerity proposal through the referendum vote, explicitly supporting the Greek government against its international creditors.
“I applaud the people of Greece for saying ‘no’ to more austerity for the poor, the children, the sick and the elderly,” Sanders said. “In a world of massive wealth and income inequality Europe must support Greece's efforts to build an economy which creates more jobs and income, not more unemployment and suffering.”
None of the other three announced Democratic presidential candidates -- former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb -- have yet commented publicly on the Greek debt crisis.
Samantha-Jo Roth reported from Iowa City. Daniel Marans reported from Washington.