EU's Rehn says strong commitment to keep euro area together

NEW YORK Fri Nov 30, 2012 5:03pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - There is a very strong commitment to ensure the euro area will not break up, the EU's top economics official said on Friday, calling those speculating on an exit of Greece "behind the curve".

EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn called the deal reached earlier this week to reduce Greece's debt burden a major milestone. He also highlighted that euro zone finance ministers are committed to further reducing Athens' debt if necessary once it has achieved a primary budget surplus, which is forecast for 2016.

"This shows the euro zone is practicing what it preaches when we say that we are ready to do whatever it takes to ensure the sustainability and irreversibility of the euro," said Rehn during a briefing with reporters in New York.

"Those who now speculate about the 'Grexit' are in fact behind the curve," he later added.

Rehn declined to give an explicit target figure for Greece's bond buyback plan with private investors, which is a key part of the country's aid deal.

Greece aims to cut its overall indebtedness by buying back bonds for less than it would have to pay if its creditors held them to maturity

The euro zone is hoping Greece will be able to repurchase at least 40 billion euros of its own bonds in a buyback operation with private investors, two euro zone officials said on Friday.

Rehn also did not comment on a question as to whether debt-burdened Spain will need a bailout, saying the framework for aid is there for once a request is made by any country.

The European Central Bank's bond-buying program, unveiled in early September, aims to support troubled countries such as Spain by reducing their borrowing costs, provided they request aid and submit to strict policy conditions and monitoring.

Spain has delayed requesting a bailout after the announcement of the program alone helped to bring debt costs sharply down.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr)

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