Greece agrees to talk to creditors in EU debt progress

Thu Feb 12, 2015 2:26pm EST
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By Renee Maltezou and Ingrid Melander

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Greece agreed on Thursday to talk to its creditors about the way out of its hated international bailout in a political climbdown that could prevent its new leftist-led government running out of money as early as next month.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, attending his first European Union summit, agreed with the chairman of euro zone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, that Greek officials would meet representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF on Friday.

"(We) agreed today to ask the institutions to engage with the Greek authorities to start work on a technical assessment of the common ground between the current program and the Greek government's plans," Dijsselbloem tweeted. This, he said, would pave the way for crucial talks between euro zone finance ministers next Monday.

The shift by Tsipras marked a potential first step towards resolving a crisis that has raised the risk of Greece being forced to abandon the euro, which could spark wider financial turmoil. A Greek official in Athens said it was a positive move towards a new financial arrangement with creditors.

It came less than 24 hours after euro zone finance ministers failed to agree on a statement on the next procedural steps because Athens did not want any reference to the unpopular bailout or the "troika" of lenders enforcing it.

Tsipras won election last month promising to scrap the 240 billion euro ($273 billion) bailout, end cooperation with the "troika", reverse austerity measures that have cast many Greeks into poverty and negotiate a reduction in the debt burden.

The procedural step forward came after the ECB's Governing Council extended a cash lifeline for Greek banks for another week, authorizing an extra 5 billion euros in emergency lending assistance (ELA) by the Greek central bank. The council decided in a telephone conference to review the program on Feb. 18.

Timing the review right after euro zone finance ministers meet again next week keeps Athens on a short leash.   Continued...

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel poses with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras (L) ahead of a meeting in Brussels February 12, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir