- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

GREECE RESILIENT

While a global economic crisis sweeps through Europe like a financial Black Death, Greece, so far, is resisting the disease.

“We are in the middle of an unprecedented worldwide financial and economic crisis,” Greek government spokesman Pavos Livadas told Embassy Row. “Greece is showing remarkable economic resilience. However, no one is talking about immunity.”

Recessions are threatening the economies of countries such as Britain, Denmark, Estonia, France, Ireland, Lithuania and Spain. In Latvia, which had the fastest growth rate in the European Union in 2006, the economy contracted by 10.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Greece, itself, was hit with strikes by farmers protesting EU agricultural policies last month; but the government still projects economic growth for this year, although not as strong as the 4 percent annual average over the past 10 years. The Greek economy slowed to 3.2 percent last year, but other indicators remained strong.

Unemployment fell to 7.4 percent last year from a high of 11 percent over the past decade. The budget deficit is down to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product from a high of 7.5 percent.

One reason Greece is withstanding the crisis is that the government and private banks refrained from the temptations of fast profits from risky investments.

“We hold no toxic assets,” Mr. Livadas said on a visit to Washington last week, referring to the bad loans that crippled major American banks.

Greece also acted quickly to prevent a run of its banks last year by increasing insurance on deposits to $135,000 from the EU average of about $65,000 and guaranteeing $35 billion in bank loans, he added.

“We didn’t pay one euro. It was all guarantees,” he said, referring to the EU currency.

On his U.S. visit, Mr. Livadas also traveled to Atlanta and Chicago to promote Greece as a safe place for foreign investments.

BRITISH ENVOY

Britain on Monday appointed a new envoy to “work closely” with Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Sherard Cowper-Coles, London’s current ambassador in Afghanistan, will take up his new post in March, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in announcing the appointment. Mr. Cowper-Coles, an Arabic speaker, is Britain’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

He will “work closely with Richard Holbrooke and other international partners to help support both the Afghan and Pakistani governments,” said Michael Ellam, a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Mr. Miliband discussed the situation in those countries in talks last week in Washington with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

FUTURE IN FAROES

If you are looking for Ambassador Albert Jonsson of Iceland, you will not find him in Washington. If you missed your chance to say “goodbye” to the diplomat who represented Iceland here for two years, you can send him a message at his new posting in the Faroe Islands.

If you do not know where the Faroe Islands are, look on a map for somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean about halfway between Iceland and Norway. There you will find the archipelago of 18 islands with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants.

Mr. Jonsson is now Iceland’s consul-general to the Faroes, an autonomous province of Denmark and good friend of Iceland. The Faroes loaned Iceland $52 million last year when the government in Reykjavik first started to buckle under a financial crisis that has nearly bankrupted the country.

Iceland’s new ambassador in Washington is Hjalmar W. Hannesson, who presented his credentials to President George W. Bush on Jan. 6.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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