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Eurogroup lauds Greek progress in bailout talks

Greece has earned the commendation of its European peers as it negotiates an extension to its bailout agreement with its international creditors, but the cash-strapped country still has a way to go.

Shortly after Greece ordered the

payment of 750 million euros

($836.4 million) to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday, eurozone officials said they welcomed Athens' eagerness to conclude marathon bailout talks as soon as possible but added that a comprehensive deal was not imminent.

"More time is needed to bridge the remaining gaps," Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem told reporters in Brussels.

Greece has been in talks with its international creditors for months, trying to secure more favorable conditions for the repayment of its debt. The nation's dire financial situation has made a successful conclusion to the talks more urgent, and Athens has been pushing for European officials to acknowledge its progress in reforming its economy in a bid to unlock 7.2 billion euros in further financial aid.

Greece seeks to please

Greece's payment to the IMF on Monday came a day earlier than it was due and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has also reshuffled his negotiating team. That move was widely seen as being aimed at appeasing Athens' lenders, many of whom have been put off by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis' combative style.

Dijsselbloem conceded that talks with the new team were "more efficient, more positive, more constructive."

"We are making faster progress," Dijsselbloem said.

But those controlling the purse strings in other eurozone countries as well as the heads of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund have been guarded with their praise for Greece, which they say is

still in danger of defaulting

as a number of important deadlines loom.

Looming deadlines

Over the next three months, Athens needs to repay more than 11.5 billion euros in bonds and refinance another 10.6 billion in treasury bills. Before their statement following Monday's Eurogroup meeting, eurozone officials dashed hopes of the ECB raising the limit on short-term treasury bills that Greek banks can buy, a move that would lower the chances of a Greek default.

Dijsselbloem also stressed on Monday that a four-month deadline set on Feb. 20 was still the foundation for negotiations and any disbursement of funds for Greece was predicated on this deadline being met.

cjc/hg (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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