Greece, creditors narrow differences in bailout talks

By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

BRUSSELS — Greece’s finance minister and international creditors made “substantial progress” Friday in narrowing their differences over the bailout program keeping the Greek economy afloat, amid renewed tensions about the country’s future in the euro.

“We made substantial progress today and are close to common ground for the mission to return to Athens in the coming week,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the eurozone finance ministers’ group, said after the talks in Brussels.

Dijsselbloem said all sides have “a clear understanding that a timely finalization of the second (bailout) review is in everybody’s interest.”

He said the 19 eurozone finance ministers will take stock of progress at their next official meeting on Feb. 20.

Concluding the review could give Athens access to more bailout funds and pave the way for important discussions about helping Greece ease its debt burden, which currently stands at about 180 percent of its gross domestic product.

Greece needs to agree with the International Monetary Fund and its European creditors on more reforms to keep tapping the bailout loans.

Although Greece insists it doesn’t have pressing cash needs, without the money it would eventually face the renewed possibility of default — something that nearly caused it to fall out of the euro bloc in 2015.