Jul 24, 2015 7:05 PM

Greek invites IMF to join bailout talks, should begin Monday

The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) Greece on Friday invited the International Monetary Fund to participate in its negotiations with European creditors over a vital third bailout talks that are expected to start next week after a few days' delay and must conclude before Greece faces another big repayment Aug. 20.

Negotiators are now expected to arrive in Athens over the weekend with talks probably starting Monday, Greek officials said.

In a statement Friday evening, the IMF confirmed it had received Greece's request for a new IMF loan and said it would work to arrange talks with Greece and its European creditors.

Athens is looking to secure yet another bailout the third since its finances imploded in 2009 worth 85 billion euros ($93 billion) over three years. Without the money, the country faces imminent bankruptcy and a probable exit from the shared euro currency.

The letter to the IMF, signed by Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, formally requests a new bailout from the fund. That is in accordance with the preliminary third bailout agreement Greece struck with its European partners on July 12, which called for IMF financing and monitoring for Greece from March 2016 when current IMF financing ends.

The letter said Athens believes it will take "several quarters" before the Greek economy faces up to its challenges "and returns to a vigorous and sustainable path to growth with fairness and social inclusion."

"We look forward to continued cooperation with the Fund," it added.

Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said the final third bailout agreement will be brought to Greece's parliament for approval on Aug. 18.

"Clearly, the negotiations will be constant until then," she said Friday.

Greece has a debt repayment of around 3.2 billion euros ($3.5 billion) to the European Central Bank on Aug. 20.

Greece's five-year financial crisis took a dramatic turn for the worse this summer, after talks between its radical left-led government elected in January and the country's creditors nearly collapsed amid sharp disagreements over the reforms required in return for the rescue loans. The new bailout was only possible after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made a sharp U-turn from years of vehemently opposing further cutbacks.

Since its first bailout in 2010, Greece's economy has shrunk by a quarter, while unemployment has rocketed to record peacetime highs and incomes have shrunk an average of 40 percent. Much of the pain has been attributed to the income cuts and tax hikes demanded by creditors.

It's unclear to what extent IMF participation complicates the latest bailout talks. The fund has been critical of many of the demands insisted upon by Greece's European creditors but it also says Greece needs deep, meaningful debt relief something that Germany and other European nations are dead set against.

Gerovasili said the IMF position on Greece's crippling debt load the highest in the 19-country eurozone "is clearly something we agree with."

But she added the fund "is tougher in negotiations, with harsher terms, and is not very agreeable to us as a negotiator."

Gerovasili dismissed reports that security concerns delayed the talks Friday, blaming "technical issues" instead.

"Greece is a safe country," Gerovasili said. "Both sides are trying to expedite the start of talks."

The final hurdle Greece had to clear before talks could restart came early Thursday when Greek lawmakers approved creditor-demanded judicial and banking reforms. A week earlier, parliament approved new laws introducing steep sales tax increases. In spite of a revolt from his own Syriza party, Tsipras managed to get both reforms passed with the help of pro-European opposition parties.

Top Greek banking and finance ministry officials met with Greek business leaders Friday to discuss ways of easing financial transactions, which are being restricted by the capital controls introduced last month.

Banks reopened Monday after being closed for more than three weeks, albeit for limited transactions. Daily withdrawals at ATMs are still limited to 60 euros ($65) per account holder, and the Athens Stock Exchange has been closed indefinitely.

On Friday, authorities eased the restrictions slightly, allowing Greeks to take up to 2,000 euros ($2,200) or the equivalent in foreign currency out of the country per trip.

"With time, the situation is returning to normal. We aim to have things return to the way they were before," Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas said.

Small Business Association Chairman Giorgos Kavvathas said the daily limit for businesses to transfer money abroad has been raised to 100,000 euros ($155,080) but Greek authorities are vetting those money transfers.

Kavvathas said check transactions are still posing a problem for businesses. Mardas said authorities are looking at ways of dealing with that and will soon announce a decision.


Raf Casert contributed from Brussels.


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