Amid growing rumors that the president has had a much stronger hand than reported in debt-wracked Greece's dealing with its international creditors, the White House made clear to Newsmax Tuesday that it was not divulging any details of conversations he or any of his staff may have had with their counterparts in Germany and Greece.
At the regular briefing for reporters at the White House, Newsmax cited the rumors and asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest to explain any "elaborate role the president has played" in helping Greece renegotiate the remainder of its 5-year-old, 240 billion-euro loan from three institutions: the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
Specifically, Newsmax referred to at least two private conversations President Barack Obama reportedly had with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month as Greece was seeking extensions of its loans and a conversation that White House Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Caroline Atkinson reportedly had only last week with officials of the administration of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
In those rumored conversations, sources from Greece told us, the president is reported to have urged Merkel to be more open to relaxing the repayment plan Athens has with the three institutions. Atkinson, we were told, urged the Tsipras government to tone down its increasingly harsh rhetoric about its creditors.
"I don't have a lot of additional detail to provide you about the kinds of conversations the president has had with Chancellor Merkel," Earnest told us. "We have acknowledged in the past that it is not uncommon for economic issues on the continent to come up in their conversations."
The president's top spokesman added that "obviously, the United States is interested in the financial and economic health of one of our largest trading partners."
While not specifically denying that the White House's Atkinson was in touch with Athens, Earnest noted that "it's principally the Department of the Treasury that has been the point of contact for monitoring that situation and engaging conversations with their counterparts both throughout the EU [European Union] and Greece as those two entities work to resolve their differences."
Newsmax's question about the president's dealings with Greece and Germany over the Greek financial bailout came as tensions between the two European nations reached an incendiary point. With Greece set to run out of cash by April, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said last week that Greece may stumble out of the eurozone because its leaders had failed to negotiate new borrowings.
Greece fired back by asking Germany to pay wartime reparations for the Nazi occupation during World War II. The German press branded the request "bizarre and impertinent." Prime Minister Tsipras hinted publicly that Greece could start confiscating German assets if Berlin refuses to pay.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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