ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s government intends to reach an agreement with its lenders on a cash-for-reforms deal by Sunday, its spokesman said on Thursday, brushing off comments from euro zone officials suggesting a deal was far from imminent.
Greece and its European and International Monetary Fund lenders have been locked in slow-moving talks on a reforms agreement for four months without a breakthrough in sight. Without a deal, Athens risks default or bankruptcy in weeks.
A new round of negotiations between technical teams from Athens and its lenders began on Wednesday in Brussels.
Defending a Greek official’s comments on Wednesday that an agreement was being drafted — which were dismissed by euro zone officials — government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said it was time to put agreements between the two sides on paper while resolving remaining differences.
“The Greek team is in Brussels with the aim of concluding the deal within the coming days,” he told a news conference. “We are coming to these negotiations with the aim to have a deal with the partners by Sunday.”
He suggested comments by officials on the other side of the negotiating table casting doubt on Greek optimism were “at times not neutral” but sought to exert pressure on Athens.
“Certainly, statements that do not share the optimism of the Greek government fall into the broader framework of negotiations and are possibly pressure on the Greek side to make more concessions,” he said.
The government is talking up chances of an agreement before a payment to the International Monetary Fund of roughly 300 million euros falls due on June 5.
If the new round of talks goes well and Athens is confident of a deal to unlock aid before wage and pension payments fall due at the end of June, it will probably make the June 5 payment, a government official said.
“Greece hopes for a deal, which is a condition for the payment of the IMF loan,” the official said. “Otherwise, it will have significant difficulties paying it, given the country’s very big funding needs.”
Athens has so far ruled out lumping loan repayments to the IMF totaling 1.5 billion euros in June.
“No such proposal has been made to the Greek government nor has the Greek government proposed this,” Sakellaridis said on Thursday. “It is not in its plans to make such a move.”
The negotiations have been marked by contradictory statements on how much progress has been achieved so far.
Greece’s leftist-led government said on Wednesday it was starting to draft an agreement with its euro zone partners and the International Monetary Fund that would pave the way for aid. European officials dismissed that as wishful thinking.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras held a one-hour call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in yet another effort to speed up the talks.
Asked whether the risk of contagion from a potential exit from the euro has diminished and consequences of a failure to reach a deal, Sakellaridis said the impact of a so-called “Grexit” could not be contained to just an economic level.
“We all understand that such a possibility would have wider consequences, not limited to the economy but also on the essence of the European Union itself, with political, geopolitical ramifications,” he said.
Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Deepa Babington and Toby Chopra, Larry King