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Clinton praises 'vital' austerity measures in Greece

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Clinton shows support in Greece
  • NEW: Greek FM: Today's Greece "has nothing to do" with Greece of two years ago
  • NEW: Hillary Clinton signs document to help stop looting of Greek antiques
  • Clinton says the Greece austerity measures will help rescue the country's economy
  • Greek lawmakers approved another round of measures at the end of June
  • They include lower pay for public workers and a reduction in social security funding

Athens, Greece (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday the United States "strongly supports" the austerity measures that Greece has taken to try to avert potential financial disaster.

"We stand by the people and government of Greece as you put your country back on a path to economic stability and prosperity," Clinton said during a visit to the country.

Clinton spoke to reporters along with Stavros Lambrinidis, who serves as minister of foreign affairs under Prime Minister George Papandreou.

"Americans know these are difficult days," Clinton said. "The United States strongly supports the Papandreou government's determination to make the necessary reforms, to put Greece back on sound financial footing, and to make Greece more competitive economically."

At the end of June, the Greek parliament voted to implement another round of austerity measures in hopes of avoiding defaulting on the government's debt.

Greece's financial woes explained
  • Greece
  • Hillary Clinton

The decision came amid a new round of large-scale protests in the streets, with riot police firing tear gas.

Demonstrators rejected measures including reductions in the pay of public workers and social security funding and an increase in the attrition of public jobs. Last year an austerity package included pension cuts, higher taxes, and a hike in retirement age to 65 from as low as 61.

Many of the protesters were young people who have been particularly hard-hit by high unemployment and blame rich tax-dodgers for the nation's fiscal woes.

Clinton said the measures the government took "were vital first steps. We know these were not easy decisions. They were acts of leadership. And those acts of leadership will help to build a better economic future."

She said that "while the payoff for these sacrifices may not come quickly, it will come. We know that."

"And we also know," Clinton added, "that the price of inaction would have been far higher now and far into the future."

Lambrinidis said, "There is no question that today's Greece has nothing to do whatsoever with Greece of two years ago. There is no question that despite the doomsayers, we are proceeding and that we shall come out of this victorious. Of course, we have no magic solutions, but there is no question the sacrifices that the Greek people have made have not only done away with the very real past risk of default but will create a sound basis for recovery."

Clinton and Lambrinidis also signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at reducing "further pillage of Greece's cultural heritage."

The document -- which the two signed at the Acropolis Museum -- is designed to "strengthen collaboration to reduce looting and trafficking of antiquities, and provide for their return to Greece," according to a fact sheet provided by the State Department. In order to bring certain materials into the United States, people will have to have documentation.

Clinton said the document, similar to one the United States has signed with more than a dozen other countries, reflects the fact that the United States is as committed to preserving Greece's future as it is to protecting Greece's past.

CNN's Elise Labott and CNNMoney's Aaron Smith and Annalyn Censky contributed to this report.