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Euro zone asked to prepare for Greek debt relief talks in April (Update 2)

EU Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici

The chairman of euro zone finance ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem asked them on Monday to prepare for Greek debt relief talks as soon as lenders verify Athens has carried out promised reforms, which one official interpreted as meaning April.

“He has said that after concluding the first review a discussion on debt relief measures will start, as promised last summer,” one euro zone official said.

The European Commission and Germany said on Monday they expected a team of representatives of Greece’s international lenders to return to Athens this week to finalise the review of reforms, without which the debt talks cannot start.

A second euro zone official saw that as meaning the debt talks would begin in April. The next regular meeting of euro zone finance ministers is to take place on April 22.

“Dijsselbloem told the euro zone finance ministers that they should prepare for debt talks to start in April,” the second euro zone official said.

But three others said no month was actually mentioned.

“He hasn’t mentioned April, although everyone hopes there will be a first review at the next Eurogroup,” the first official said. Two others confirmed that Dijsselbloem did not specifically refer to April.

The reform assessment, called the first review, stalled in February over details of the politically very difficult pension reform and because of diverging views between the euro zone and the IMF on how to make the economy and debt sustainable in the longer term.

European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told reporters before the ministerial meeting he expected the ministers to decide on Monday to send the reform review team back to Greece.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he would support sending the team already this week. Two euro zone officials, who asked not to be named, said the lenders’ representatives may set out already on Tuesday.

“The lenders mission will return to Athens on Tuesday,” a Greek government official said.

The debt relief talks will focus on extending the maturities of existing loans, grace periods and some interest rate reductions but no write-off of capital.

The head of the euro zone bailout fund Klaus Regling said earlier this year he expected the reform review might be closed before the end of March.

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