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British PM welcomes Tusk letter, still seeking four-year curb on migrant benefits

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed a signal on Monday that a strong will exists in the European Union to reach a deal with Britain but will still push for a four-year curb on welfare payments for EU migrants, his spokeswoman said.

Cameron has promised to reform Britain’s EU ties ahead of a membership referendum before the end of 2017.

The man leading negotiations with Britain said earlier on Monday there was a “strong will” to reach a deal but no agreement on a key British proposal aimed at curbing immigration from the rest of the bloc.

In a letter to EU leaders ahead of a summit he will chair next week, European Council President Donald Tusk urged the other 27 to answer Cameron’s concerns swiftly because uncertainty over the referendum was “destabilizing” the Union.

Cameron’s spokeswoman said: “This renegotiation is about addressing the concerns of the British people about membership of the EU and that means that we need reform in all four areas that we have outlined,” adding that the British leader welcomed Tusk’s letter as a step forward in the renegotiation.

“What matters is that we keep making the case for why we need to see changes,” she said. “This issue that we are trying to address here is how better to control migration from within the EU ... We will continue to have discussions and explore the options.”

Asked whether Cameron was still pushing to deny welfare benefits to EU citizens working in Britain for the first four years -- proving the most problematic of his demands -- she said: “That is the proposal absolutely on the table.”

“That is why we need to have a substantive political debate at next week’s summit,” she added.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, Editing by Stephen Addison