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Merkel, Tsipras stress friendly ties despite differences

The German chancellor and the Greek prime minister have stressed their determination to overcome tensions between their governments. Alexis Tsipras is on his first visit to Berlin since coming to office in January.

There was no hiding the current differences between the German and Greek governments, when Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appeared before reporters at a press conference following their first session of bilateral talks at the chancellery in Berlin, on Monday evening.

At the same time though, both stressed the fact that despite their current differences over Greece's international bailout and a number of other issues, their two countries remained close allies with deep political ties.

Bilateral relations have become increasingly strained since Tsipras and his Syriza party-led government were sworn in - back in January - particularly over the left-wing administration's aim of rolling back austerity measures introduced by its predecessors, to comply with the terms of the country's 240-billion-euro ($260 billion) bailout.

Syriza officials have blamed the austerity measures for causing what Tsipras has termed a "humanitarian crisis" in his country, but Merkel and other eurozone leaders have insisted that Athens fulfill the terms of the signed agreement.

'Appetite for cooperation'

Following Monday's press conference, it wasn't clear the two leaders were any closer to resolving their differences on the issue, but both also stressed their determination to work together to bridge the gap.

Chancellor Merkel spoke of "an appetite for cooperation," which she sensed in her first one-to-one meeting with the new Greek premier. She also stressed that Germany had been among those eurozone countries that continued to push Athens to implement structural reforms because it wanted the Greek economy to prosper.

"We want Greece to be strong economically, we want Greece to grow and above all we want Greece to overcome its high unemployment," the chancellor said.

Berlin Merkel empfängt Tsipras

Tsipras was welcomed at the chancellery with full military honors.

However, when asked whether Germany would urge international creditors to step in and solve Greece's liquidity problems, Chancellor Merkel noted that any such decision could only be taken by the entire Eurogroup of nations, which use the euro currency.

Tsipras also noted that he had not come to Berlin seeking any such promise.

'Breaking down stereotypes'

The two leaders both stressed the need to end the sometimes heated rhetoric that has been heard in both capitals in recent weeks, and break down mutual stereotypes.

"Neither are the Greeks lazy louts nor are the Germans to blame for Greece's ills - we have to work hard to overcome these stereotypes," Tsipras said.

Merkel said it was important to "overcome these types of stereotypes" about good and bad eurozone states, if the currency union was to succeed in the long term.

Following the news conference, the two leaders were to continue their talks over dinner.

pfd/jr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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