Lenders team may return to Athens in coming week as differences narrow

A team of international lenders from the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund is likely to return to Athens in the coming week to begin to finalize a review of reforms, paving the way for more loan payouts and debt relief talks, officials said.

The lenders need to assess if Greece has delivered on the reforms it promised as part of the third bailout agreement, signed with them last August, in exchange for cheap loans.

The review of the reforms, started in late January, stalled in early February over details of the politically very difficult pension reform and diverging views between the euro zone and the IMF on how to make the economy and debt sustainable in the longer term.

"Contacts over the past days have led to a situation where it seems reasonable to assume that the review mission, including the mission heads, might be able to go to Athens in the coming week, to be confirmed tomorrow," one official close to the lenders said. The official gave no further details.

A second confirmed the mission could go to Athens in the coming week.

Without the lenders' agreement that Greece has delivered on the promised reforms, the euro zone finance ministers could not authorize their ESM bailout fund to pay out the next tranches of loans to Athens.

Also the start of talks on debt relief for Greece, which is to include an extension of maturities, grace periods and some interest rate reductions but no write-off of capital, can only start after a positive review of the reforms, the euro zone has decided.

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

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