US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday said Greece's "resilience" in tackling its huge debt could inspire the world, as she expressed Washington's support for the government's efforts.
"I have faith in the resilience of the Greek people," Clinton said at the start of two days of talks with Greek leaders in Athens.
"I applaud the Greek government on its willingness to take these difficult steps. Greece has inspired the world before, and I have every confidence that you are doing so again," she said after meeting with counterpart Stavros Lambrinidis.
"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.
The message was intended to boost the embattled Socialist administration of US-born Prime Minister George Papandreou, who has laboured to enforce tough reforms demanded by Greece's creditors over the past year.
"There are lots of analogies -- having to take the strong medicine that tastes terrible when it goes down and you wish you didn't have to, or the chemotherapy to get rid of the cancer," Clinton said.
"But the bottom line is this is the best approach and we strongly support it," she said. "While the payoff for these sacrifices may not come quickly, it will come. We know that."
The unpopular measures have sparked waves of strikes and protests, many of them violent, with many Greeks angry at the apparent futility of the effort.
Despite a huge effort last year involving painful wage and pension cuts, deficit reduction targets were ultimately missed because of a greater-than-foreseen recession.
This forced Papandreou's administration to bring a new austerity package before parliament last month, with creditors threatening to withhold continued aid unless it, too, was passed. The package was passed by the government's majority in parliament.
"Those acts of leadership will help to build a better economic future," Clinton said on Sunday.
"Now the challenge will be to keep moving forward with the same determination and commitment to make good on the fiscal targets and continue to deliver reform that drives future growth."
"We believe that the recent legislation will make Greece more competitive, will make Greece more business-friendly," she said.
Clinton also met with Papandreou, Greek President Carolos Papoulias and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Sunday.
She is scheduled to meet main opposition leader Antonis Samaras on Monday before flying to India.
Lambrinidis said Athens "appreciated" the support and "pledged to emerge victorious" from the ordeal.
He argued that the European Union has "unfathomable" economic power "when 500 million people in 27 countries stand together."
But observers say the bloc has failed to harness this potential in successive efforts to deal with the Greek debt crisis.
After finance ministers failed to clinch a new rescue package for Greece last Monday, stocks and the euro tumbled. Analysts warned a Greek debt default could infect Italy, the third-biggest eurozone economy, and Spain, the fourth-biggest.
The EU and International Monetary Fund bailed out Greece in May 2010 with a package worth 110 billion euros ($160 billion) in exchange for a series of drastic austerity measures to stabilise its public finances.
Greece is still in serious difficulty and needs another bailout valued at around the same amount. Its debt has exploded to over 350 billion euros and market hostility has kept it from raising fresh loans.
Eurozone nations will hold another emergency summit on July 21 in Brussels to discuss how to tackle the debt crisis and provide fresh aid for Greece.
"It is time for Europe to wake up" and find a conclusive solution, Papandreou said in an interview with Greek daily Kathimerini on Sunday, and he insisted that Greece would not default on its debt