Optimism, not a breakthrough, prevails in Greece talks
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' (above left) meeting with international creditors in Brussels extended into the early hours of Thursday morning, in an attempt to thrash out a deal that could avert a possible "Grexit."
The push is towards a deal that would allow Athens to access crucial bailout aid in return for reforms.
Time is running out for Athens to reach an agreement with its creditors - the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - as it faces 1.6 billion euros ($1.8 billion) in debt repayments this month.
Tsipras' anti-austerity Syriza government has been locked in a standoff with Greece's creditors to unlock the last tranche of its bailout package. Both sides indicated the negotiations were heading in the right direction, but the four-hour discussions that ended on Thursday concluded without any agreement.
"I believe that, in any case, agreement is in sight but we need to conclude the discussions with a realistic point of view," Tsipras said after the talks, which included European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (above right) and Eurogroup Chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said in a statement that "progress" had been made.
"It was a good, constructive meeting. Progress was made in understanding each other's positions on the basis of various proposals. It was agreed that they will meet again. Intense work will continue," it said.
The talks center around what budget reforms Greece needs to implement to get the 7.2 billion euros ($8.1 billion) that are left over in its bailout fund.
A key test of how much money Greece has left will emerge this Friday, when it must repay the IMF 300 million euros.
Tsipras said he had rejected some of the reform plans put forward by Athens' creditors, including cuts to pensions, and a rise in the sales tax for electricity.
"There are points that no one would consider as a base for discussion," he said.
Ahead of the meeting, Tsipras had a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. The three agreed on Greece's need for lower primary surpluses - the budget balance without taking into account debt servicing.
Without bailout funds, Greece could eventually default on its debts and crash out of the euro. Officials fear that Greece may not have the time to push key reforms through parliament by the end of the month, when the European share of Athens' bailout expires.
jr/bk (AP, AFP, dpa)