* IMF, euro zone ministers at odds over forgiving official
loans to Greece
* Greek debt could come down to 125 pct/GDP in 2020 under
* International lenders close to a deal
By Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS, Nov 26 Euro zone finance ministers and
the International Monetary Fund will seek to unfreeze the second
bailout package for Greece on Monday, but they first need to
agree if some of the official loans to Athens might eventually
be forgiven to cut Greek debt.
Euro zone ministers and their deputies have held numerous
meetings and conference calls over the last two weeks to decide
how Greek debt, seen at almost 190 percent of GDP next year,
could be cut to a more sustainable 120 percent in 8-10 years.
Without agreement on how to reduce the debt, euro zone
ministers and the IMF do not want to resume payments of loan
tranches to Athens -- even though Greece has met all the
conditions -- because they have no guarantee on whether the need
for emergency financing will ever end.
The key question is: Can Greek debt become sustainable
without the euro zone writing off some of the loans to Athens?
So far, the options for debt reduction under consideration
include reducing interest on already extended bilateral loans to
Greece from the current 150 basis points above financing costs.
How much lower is not yet decided -- France and Italy would
like to reduce the rate to 30 basis points (bps), while Germany
and some other countries insist on a 90 bps margin.
Another option, which could cut Greek debt by almost 17
percent of GDP, is to defer interest payments on loans to Greece
from the EFSF, a temporary bailout fund, by 10 years.
The European Central Bank could forego profits on its Greek
bond portfolio, bought at a deep discount, cutting the debt pile
by a further 4.6 percent by 2020, a document prepared for the
ministers' talks last week showed.
Not all euro zone central banks are prepared to forego their
profits, however, the German Bundesbank among them.
Greece could also buy back its privately-held bonds on the
market at a deep discount, with gains from the operation
depending on the scope and price.
But the preparatory document from last week said that the
120 percent target could not be reached in 2020, only two years
later, unless the ministers accept losses on their loans to
Athens, provide additional financing or force private creditors
into selling Greek debt at a discount.
The latest analysis for the ministers showed the debt could
come down to 125 percent of GDP in 2020, one euro zone official
with insight into the talks said.
FORGIVING OFFICIAL LOANS?
To cut the debt more boldly, the IMF wants the euro zone to
forgive Greece some of the official loans, in what is called
Official Sector Involvement (OSI) in EU jargon.
This is an idea that several countries, including Germany,
the Netherlands, Finland and Slovakia, firmly reject.
On Monday, the biggest battle is likely to be over just
"OSI is at the core of the problems with reaching a deal,"
one euro zone official with insight into the talks said.
German central bank governor Jens Weidmann has suggested
that Greece could "earn" a reduction in debt it owes to euro
zone governments in a few years if it diligently implements all
the agreed reforms. The European Commission backs that view.
German paper Welt am Sonntag said on Sunday that euro zone
ministers were considering a write-down of official loans for
Greece from 2015, but gave no sources and a euro zone official
said such an option was never seriously discussed.
European Central Bank executive board member Joerg Asmussen
told the German Bild paper on Sunday that a write-down on Greek
debt should not be part of the deal, echoing repeated statements
from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble who said it
would be illegal.
"It will be touch-and-go if we get a deal on Greece on
Monday," a senior euro zone official said. "Euro zone countries
have made concessions worth a lot of money already, so it is
difficult to see how this can move even further."
French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said on Sunday
evening that euro zone ministers made big progress to reach a
common position during at a conference call on Saturday in
preparation for their talks with the IMF on Monday.
"I will go with a firm determination, with a mandate from
the president and prime minister, to reach a conclusion,"
Moscovici said. "We are very close to a solution."
Moscovici mentioned the reduction of interest on bilateral
loans, foregoing ECB profits on Greek bonds and the debt
buy-back as the options that would need to be applied for a deal
as well as additional financing for Athens to keep it funded
until 2016, rather than only until 2014.