Greece sets sights on deal, denies to delay IMF payment

Greece hopes to reach a deal with its international lenders next week and has no plans to delay a repayment to the IMF, the government said on Wednesday, seeking to calm mounting fears that the country will default.

Greece is weeks away from running out of cash but its euro zone and International Monetary Fund lenders have frozen aid until it implements reforms, with talks bogged down over what measures the leftist-led government must take.

A payment to the IMF of about 430 million euros ($463.36 million) due on April 9 is shaping up to be the next financial test for Greece, which is already resorting to last-ditch measures like borrowing from state entities to tide it through the cash crunch.

In an interview with German daily Der Spiegel, Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis said that if foreign creditors do not send Athens further funds by April 9, the government would first pay salaries and pensions and then come to an agreement with lenders on paying the IMF late.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government, which was elected in January on promises to ease the terms of the bailout and cut debt, denied the comments represented its stance.

“There is no chance that Greece will not meet its obligations to the IMF on April 9,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Reuters.

Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said a planned visit by Tsipras to Moscow next week was “to find out whether our historic friendship with Russia can be stretched to other levels”, German newspaper Die Zeit reported.

“We’d like to stay on the ship called Europe,” Skourletis was quoted as saying. “But if the captain pushes us overboard, we need to try to swim.”

But Athens would only reveal what role Russia might play “if nothing works anymore”, Skourletis added.


Earlier, Economy Minister George Stathakis said he expected an agreement with lenders next week on a package of reforms submitted by Athens to help unlock remaining bailout funds.

“I think talks will lead to a deal next week. The agreement will close on (Greek Orthodox) Easter week,” he told Skai TV.

A finance ministry official said on Wednesday that Greece had sent an updated list of proposed reforms to its official creditors but that the two sides remain at loggerheads on the issues of pension and labor reforms.

Athens presented the list of reforms last week in a bid to show it is committed to living up to pledges of financial discipline, but lenders dismissed it as a collection of ideas.

Euro zone deputy finance ministers discussed the situation in a conference call on Wednesday after Greek and EU and IMF officials failed to reach an initial deal.

The list proposed by Athens includes including the leasing of 14 regional airports and the sale of Greece’s largest port, Piraeus, to raise 1.5 billion euros this year, although ministers have made conflicting statements on the port sale.

On Wednesday, Stathakis said the government had no plans to sell all of its 67 percent stake in Piraeus Port Authority but would seek a joint venture with investors.

That appeared to contradict the deputy prime minister comment during a trip to China last week that the stake sale would go ahead.

Stathakis also said Athens would seek to “change, revise or improve” some terms of the airport tender, won by German airport operator Fraport, but would not cancel the deal.