Greece’s PM Alexis Tsipras warned Saturday that a high-stakes eurogroup meeting to resolve the country’s bailout drama was going to be tricky, despite progress made in negotiations with the EU.

“Monday’s negotiations at the Eurogroup will be difficult,” he told Real News weekly, as Greek and EU officials met for talks on Athens’ demands for a radical restructuring of its massive international bailout programme.

“In Brussels, our partners met another Greece, one that knows what it wants to ask for. A significant step forward was taken, it is however early to speak of an agreement,” he said.

The consultations began Friday after Tsipras laid out his plans to his peers, including Europe’s sceptical paymaster German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at his first European Union summit.

Merkel recognised the need for compromise on all sides, but also called for Greece to respect the conditions of the bailout — a position that neatly encapsulated both sides in the stand-off.

“It is not a negotiation but an exchange of views to better understand each other’s position,” an EU official said of the final huddle Saturday before next week’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels.

Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem addresses reporters as he arrives for an emergency Eurogroup finance ministers meeting at the European Council in Brussels on February 11, 2015

“The talks are ongoing and the institutions are expected to report at the Eurogroup on Monday,” the official said, without giving further details.

No discussions are scheduled for Sunday, with the parties reporting back to their governments to complete preparations for Monday’s meeting of the 19 eurozone finance ministers at 1400 GMT.

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Dutch Finance Minister and Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Friday he was “pessimistic” about the prospects of any quick deal.

– Sky-high ambitions –

“The Greeks have sky-high ambitions. The possibilities, given the state of the Greek economy, are limited,” Dijsselbloem said in describing the difficulties in finding common ground.

“I don’t know if we’ll get there by Monday,” he added.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urged all sides in the talks to “set aside rhetoric and focus on reaching a pragmatic path forward.”

The EU and the International Monetary Fund bailed Greece out in 2010, and then again in 2012 to the tune of some 240 billion euros, plus a debt write-down worth more than 100 billion euros ($113 billion).

People hold a banner reading “Against austerity, Greece change, Europe change” on February 14, 2015 in Rome during a demonstration to support new hard-left Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during his talks in Brussels

In return for the bailouts, the then centre-right Greek government agreed to a series of stinging austerity measures, and the much-resented oversight by the EU, IMF and European Central Bank ‘troika’.

Tsipras won elections last month on promises to ditch the programme, which he said had wrecked the economy and sent the jobless rate soaring.

In a more conciliatory move, however, Athens also said it could live with 70 percent of the current programme, but that Greece must be allowed leeway on the rest so it can do more to boost the economy.

The government’s efforts have been largely applauded at home, where it enjoys an approval rating of just over 60 percent, according to a poll by Kappa Research for the Vima weekly, published Saturday.

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Some 46 percent of those polled said they believed the economic situation would improve in the next 12 months, while 25 percent said they were in favour of leaving the common currency and returning to the drachma.

Thousands of Greeks were expected to take to the streets in the capital and across the country on Sunday evening for pro-government demos ahead of the Brussels meet.

A protester waves a flag reading “The other Europe with Tsipras” on February 14, 2015 in Rome during a demonstration to support new hard-left Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during his talks in Brussels and to protest against austerity

In a show of support, several hundred people in debt-laden Italy — which has also suffered the effects of austerity — rallied in Rome Saturday, with one organiser saying “Greece is not alone! Europe must change.”

Time is of the essence in resolving the impasse amid fears that failure could force Greece out of the eurozone, with potentially disastrous consequences for all concerned.

The country’s current debt rescue expires at the end of this month, and the ECB has signalled it is unwilling to offer Greece the cheap funding to keep its banking system afloat if there is no new arrangement between Athens and its creditors.



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