Greek talks to begin after 'technical' issues ironed out

AP , Friday 24 Jul 2015

High-level talks between Greece and its European creditors on a third bailout for the cash-strapped country have been delayed until logistical matters are sorted out, officials said Friday.

Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili sought to downplay talk that security concerns are a reason why European negotiators won't now arrive in Athens until Saturday at the earliest. They had been expected Friday. The delay, she said, is relatof ed to "technical issues" and that the security of negotiators isn't a problem.

"Greece is a safe country," Gerovasili said. "Both sides are trying to expedite the start talks."

A European official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, said final preparations regarding the structure of the talks were being ironed out but that discussions at a technical level were taking place between Greece and representatives from the country's creditors.

Greece is looking to secure its third bailout in five years. The latest financial rescue of the country is expected to be worth 85 billion euros ($93 billion) over three years. Without the money, Greece will face imminent bankruptcy and a possible exit from the euro.

The hope is that the bailout talks, which are now ready to begin after the Greek Parliament passed measures demanded by European creditors, will conclude by Aug. 20 when Greece has a debt repayment of around 3.2 billion euros ($3.5 billion) to make to the European Central Bank.

The final hurdle Greece had to clear before talks could restart came in the early hours of Thursday when Greek lawmakers approved a package of judicial and banking reforms. A week earlier, parliament approved legislation introducing steep sales tax increases.

In spite of a revolt from the ranks of his own radical left Syriza party, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras managed to get both sets of reforms approved with the help of opposition parties.

While the official start of the bailout talks was being awaited, top banking and finance ministry officials met with business leaders Friday to discuss ways of easing financial transactions following the imposition of capital controls last month.

Banks reopened Monday after being shuttered for more than three weeks, albeit for limited transactions. Daily withdrawals at ATMs are still limited to 60 euros ($65) per account holder.

"With time, the situation is returning to normal and we aim to have things return to the way they were before," said Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas after the meeting.

Small Business Association Chairman Giorgos Kavvathas told The Associated Press that the daily limit for businesses to transfer money abroad has been raised to 100,000 euros — an amount that covers the needs of almost three-quarters of Greek businesses. However, Greek authorities vet those money transfers.

Kavvathas said check transactions still pose a problem for businesses. Mardas said authorities are looking at ways of dealing with that issue and decisions will be announced soon.

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