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Kostas Tsironis, Associated Press
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, gestures as she addresses the media with the Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis in Athens, on Sunday, July 16, 2011. Hillary Clinton continues her regional diplomatic tour to Turkey, Greece and India.

ATHENS, Greece — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Athens on Sunday, voiced strong American support for financially troubled Greece's economic recovery plans and urged the nation to forge ahead with painful reforms that have sparked unrest.

In 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.

"I am pleased to be here during these challenging times to demonstrate unequivocally the strong support the United States has for Greece," she told a news conference with Greek Foreign Minister 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. We have a lot riding on our relationship together."

"Friends prove themselves in difficult times and, as we know, Greece is going through a difficult time," Lambrinidis 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 over 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.