Tsakalotos says Greece close to deal with creditors

Although discussions on Greece’s next economic reforms have been suspended, Athens says that it is very close to deal with international creditors

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos delivers a press conference in Athens on January 18, 2016.

Greece said on late Tuesday it was "very close" to clinching a deal with its international creditors despite a suspension in a tough round of talks on the country's latest reforms.

"We are very close to an agreement with the institutions. The definitive decisions will be taken between now and April 22, or at the latest April 26" at a possible extraordinary meeting of eurozone finance ministers, said Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos.

He added that "two draft bills will be introduced in parliament by next week," the first on controversial pensions reforms and the second on income tax reforms.

Athens' aim is to pass the two laws "by the end of April," he told reporters at a joint press conference with the Greek employment and economy ministers.

Earlier on Monday the minister had announced the suspension of talks with the creditors -- the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) -- taking a break for a scheduled IMF meeting.

"It was decided to have a pause so we can all go to Washington" for the annual spring meeting of the IMF, he said, adding: "There was major progress on several issues."

Government spokesman Olga Gerovassili said there had been progress in the negotiations but "without any backing down by the government on its red lines," notably on pensions.

The talks have mostly hinged on an unpopular pensions overhaul and the management of bad loans weighing down Greek banks, with Athens resisting pressure to sell them to funds specialising in distressed debt.

In a last-minute breakthrough, the Greek energy ministry on Tuesday said it had agreed to launch in June the sale of at least 20 percent of state electricity distributor Admie.

The latest round of creditor talks were clouded by allegations that senior IMF officials sought to engineer a Greek default.

Just before the talks opened last week, a WikiLeaks report said the IMF was looking for a crisis "event" to push Greece and European negotiators into accepting its fiscal targets, citing an intercepted conversation between senior IMF officials.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde later dismissed the report as "nonsense".

Tsipras's leftist government has frequently crossed swords with the global lender. Last year, he said the Washington-based organisation carried "criminal responsibility" for Greece's austerity-driven recession woes.

More recently Tsipras has accused the IMF of employing "stalling tactics" and "arbitrary" estimates to delay the reforms review that is crucial to Greece receiving further bailout cash.

Greece needs the money to meet a July repayment of some 3.5 billion euros ($4.0 billion) in bonds held by the European Central Bank.

The IMF has worked with the EU on two previous bailouts for Greece since 2010 but said it would not participate in the latest rescue plan without credible reforms and an EU agreement to ease Greece's debt burden.