ATHENS, Greece -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton voiced strong American support Sunday for financially troubled Greece's economic recovery plans and urged the nation to forge ahead with painful reforms that have sparked unrest.
During and after meetings with senior Greek officials, Clinton underscored Washington's backing for their deficit and debt reduction programs that have hit the country hard, even as the Obama administration grapples with a similar issue at home. She acknowledged the reforms were "strong medicine" that are difficult to swallow, but said the United States had complete confidence in them.
"America is just as committed to Greece's future as we are to preserving your past," Clinton said before signing an agreement at the Acropolis Museum that will protect Greek cultural objects from being looted or illegally sold on the international market. "During these difficult economic times, we will stand with you."
Standing before a bank of large windows looking up at the Acropolis, she said: "We are confident that the nation that built the Parthenon, invented democracy and inspired the world can rise to the current challenge."
Earlier, at a news conference with Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis, Clinton said the U.S. and Greece "have a lot riding on our relationship together." Lambrinidis thanked her for U.S. support. "Friends prove themselves in difficult times and, as we know, Greece is going through a difficult time," he said. "The U.S. has stood by us in a decisive manner."
Lambrindis said that many on "both sides of the Atlantic" had predicted Greece's collapse. He said Greece had proved them wrong and would continue to prove them wrong.
The Greek financial crisis loomed overshadowed other items on Clinton's agenda here, including improving ties between Greece and Turkey, resolving their long-standing dispute over divided Cyprus, the Middle East peace process and the wave of popular discontent sweeping the Arab world.
Greece's government has embarked on a punishing new round of austerity measures after missing its deficit-cutting targets so far in 2011. Spending cuts and tax hikes have already sparked frequent strikes and demonstrations, with protests often turning violent in central Athens.
Clinton appealed for the Greek people to stay the course.
"We know these were not easy decisions," she said. "While the payoff from these sacrifices may not come quickly, it will come. ... Greece has inspired the world before and I have every confidence that they are doing so again."
Clinton's meetings with top Greek officials come as Greece prepares for an emergency summit on Thursday in Brussels of the leaders of the 17 eurozone countries at which they will attempt to forge a deal on a second bailout for the nation.
Greece needs an extra $162.68 billion (euro115 billion) to keep it afloat until mid-2014, according to the European Commission -- on top of a euro110 billion bailout it was granted last May.
Fears that Greece's private creditors may have to take losses as part of the deal dragged the big economies of Spain and Italy into the debt crisis, which has so far been confined to small states like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
Clinton is visiting Athens on the second leg of a 12-day around-the-world diplomatic tour. She came to Greece from Turkey and will travel to India, Indonesia, Hong Kong and southern mainland China before returning home on July 25.