HIGHLIGHTS-Greek finance minister on EU/IMF bailout

ATHENS, Feb 21 (Reuters) – Here are highlights of Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos’s news conference in Athens on Tuesday after returning from Brussels talks where euro zone finance ministers clinched a 130-billion-eurobailout package.

“I wonder what would have happened today in Greece, in the euro zone, in Europe, and to the world economy if early this morning after 15 hours of talks and negotiations the Eurogroup didn’t approve the new programme forGreece…

“This morning we had a positive outcome which wasn’t easy or obvious … This was a significant development that gives our country a new opportunity, and we need to make the most of this opportunity.”

“A nightmarescenario was avoided.”

“It is maybe the most important (deal) in Greece’s post-war history.”

“What we have is the clear, explicit commitment of our peers that they will support us even after the end of the programme, untilGreece returns to the markets.”

“The Brussels agreement this morning is the result of great, painful and complicated negotiations, negotiations that I do not want to compare to other historical negotiations, but that are perhaps the mostimportant of the post-war era, given the economic volume and impact on politics and society.”

“This is long-term support for the clear political decision that Greece is and will remain a member of the euro zone, whatever happens.”

“We also have monitoring and support mechanisms for this
programme which absolutely respect the country’s independence and equal position.”

“The final PSI (debt swap) is more drastic, and as a result better than the one that wasagreed on before the beginning of the last round of negotiations.”

“In the end we have the brave, voluntary participation of the private sector, who agreed to cut the value of the debt owned by them by 53.5 percent instead of 50 percent.This, combined with … other elements of our programme, allows us to have a better result on our debt in 2020, it allows us to have a sustainable debt and … annual debt management which is significantly lighter compared to today’s debt.”


Greece, creditors move to breach gap as clock ticks

By Sophie Sassard and Dina Kyriakidou
LONDON/ATHENS, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Greece and its private bondholders inched closer on Thursday to a vital debt swap deal needed to avoid a messy defaultby Athens, with both sides saying progress has been made and negotiations would continue on Friday.

Nearly a week after talks hit an impasse over the coupon, or interest payment, that Greece must offer on its new bonds under the swap, there were signs the two sides were moving to overcome their differences as time to strike a deal runs out quickly.

“The atmosphere was good, progress was made and we will continue tomorrow afternoon,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said after talkswith Charles Dallara, head of the Institute of International Finance representing bondholders.

The IIF issued a statement echoing the minister.

Bankers and sources close to the talks say a deal could be wrapped up in the next few days,though previous predictions of a quick resolution have proven premature.

The stakes could not be higher this time. Greece must thrash out a deal within days to pave the way for a new infusion of aid that allows it to avoid bankruptcy when 14.5billion euros ($18.5 billion) of bond redemptions fall due in March.

Even if a deal is struck rapidly, the paperwork will take weeks and Greece’s official lenders, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, say the work must becleared before funds are doled out from a 130 billion euro rescue plan they drew up in October.

Turning up the pressure before Thursday’s round of talks, Venizelos told lawmakers that a large chunk of the bond swap must be agreed by noon onFriday and formalised before Monday’s meeting of euro zone finance ministers.

Kept afloat by bailout loans, Greece faces the threat of having to leave the euro zone and slumping into further economic and social misery if it fails to come to grips with its debt, including securing the deal with the private bond holders.

“Now is the crucial moment in the final battle for the debt swap and the crucial moment in the final and definitive battle for the new bailout,” Venizelos told parliament. “Now, now! Now is the time to negotiate for the sake of the country.”

Progress had been hard to come by in the latest round of discussions, with bankers worried about being hit by losses far higher than the 50 percent writedown they wereexpected to take on the nominal value of their bonds.

A source close to the talks said earlier that Athens and its foreign lenders had offered a coupon of just over 3.5 percent during a two-hour meeting on Wednesday, but bondholders rejected that as too low. They were angling for a coupon of at least 4 percent, the source said.

One banker briefed on the talks said progress was made on minor points related to the structure of the deal and the law it would fall under, but the couponremained a sticking point.

The two sides were roughly one percentage point apart in their demands on the coupon as talks restarted on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and George Georgiopoulos; Writing by DeepaBabington; editing by Ron Askew and David Stamp)