Greece ne­go­ti­a­tions push on as de­fault looms

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY ALEX PIGMAN AND HE­LENE COLLIOPOULOU

Greek and EU- IMF of­fi­cials were locked in last-chance talks on Sun­day to avert a de­fault by Athens that could pave the way for a cat­a­strophic exit by Greece from the euro and sow eco­nomic chaos in Europe.

Greece’s em­bat­tled pre­mier Alexis Tsipras warned his na­tion on Satur­day to pre­pare for a “dif­fi­cult com­pro­mise” in what all sides agreed was the last chance for Athens to un­lock vi­tal bailout cash and keep its fi­nances afloat.

“The talks are con­tin­u­ing to­day,” Euro­pean Com­mis­sion spokes­woman Mina An­dreeva con­firmed to AFP, with the out­come and du­ra­tion of the marathon sit­down still very much un­cer­tain.

In­volved in the talks that be­gan on Satur­day are Tsipras’ clos­est aides and the three in­sti­tu­tions re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing the Greek bailout: the Euro­pean Com­mis- sion, the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank and the hard-line In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund.

“Po­si­tions are still far apart. It’s not cer­tain whether there will be an out­come and se­nior com­mis­sion of­fi­cials are wor­ried whether an agree­ment can be reached on time,” an EU of­fi­cial said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

But on a morn­ing jaunt out­side his of­fices in Athens, Tsipras told re­porters he was “by na­ture an op­ti­mist” and fore­saw a pos­i­tive out­come to the talks, ac­cord­ing to the ANA news agency.

Greece is shat­tered eco­nom­i­cally af­ter six year of cri­sis and de­spite two res­cue pro­grams since 2010, worth 240 bil­lion eu­ros, mostly in loans owed to its Euro­pean part­ners, led by Ger­many and France.

‘Dif­fi­cult com­pro­mise’

By the week­end, play­ing hard­ball seemed to have worked with Athens eas­ing up, at least ver­bally, on the anti-aus­ter­ity plat­form that had swept Tsipras’ far-left SYRIZA party to power in Jan­uary.

“We had promised to ne­go­ti­ate hard with our part­ners dur­ing our elec­tion cam­paign and that’s what we did,” Econ­omy Min­is­ter Gior­gos Stathakis was quoted as say­ing in the Avghi news­pa­per on Sun­day.

But “the idea of a rup­ture (with Europe) is not in our man­date,” he added.

The com­ments came a day af­ter Tsipras told top SYRIZA of­fi­cials that the coun­try “must take up the chal­lenge” of a “dif­fi­cult com­pro­mise.”

A Ger­man me­dia re­port on Sun­day also said “ten­sions” had arisen be­tween the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and IMF cred­i­tors in re­cent days.

Cit­ing a “ne­go­tia­tor,” the Frank­furter All­ge­meine Zeitung said the IMF had “tor­pe­doed” a re­cent at­tempt by Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker to of­fer Athens a com­pro­mise deal that spared Greek pen­sions from more aus­ter­ity.

The of­ten provoca­tive Greek Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ya­nis Varo­ufakis un­der­lined th­ese re­ported dif­fer­ences in an in­ter­view to Greece’s Real­news.

“I wouldn’t be sur­prised if the IMF makes un­ac­cept­able de­mands that it well knows Greece can­not agree to in or­der to jus­tify it leav­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions,” he said.

How­ever, he added that a deal be­tween the EU and Greece would still re­main pos­si­ble, though Euro­pean of­fi­cials deny this.

If no signs of a re­forms-for-cash deal emerge in the com­ing hours, all eyes will be on the fi­nan­cial mar­kets on Mon­day.

The Athens stock mar­ket crashed 6 per­cent when news of the EU’s de­fault plans emerged, and fears are high that mar­kets could tum­ble fur­ther with­out signs of progress.

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