Monday, February 16, 2015

Greece Rejects Eurozone's 'Absurd' Bailout Offer - Time Running Out On Talks

The latest meeting between Greece and its international lenders over the debt-stricken country's €172bn bailout ended in disarray on Monday, as the eurozone's offer was rejected as "absurd" and "unacceptable". 
Greece has demanded an end to the EU and International Monetary Fund's “adjustment” programme of economic reforms and austerity agreed three years ago in return for a bailout. 
Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday hoping to reach a compromise before the bailout expires on February 28. 
However, Greek politicians reacted with anger to a draft statement tabled by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers.
The communique committed Greece's far-Left Syriza government to “successfully conclude” the EU-IMF programme

Greece's government blasted the document, with one source telling Reuters that "carrying out the bailout programme was off the table at the summit. Those who bring this back are wasting their time."

Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, accused the Greek government of “behaving irresponsibly” by threatening to tear up agreements made with the eurozone in return for access to the loans which are all that stand between Greece and financial collapse.

“It seems like we have no results so far. I’m quite sceptical. The Greek government has not moved, apparently,” he said.

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, has also told the eurozone that Athens will not implement unpopular austerity measures, such as privatisations or changes to labour laws, that were promised in return for EU aid.

Many eurozone finance ministers expressed dismay that a weekend of talks between EU, International Monetary Fund and Greek technical experts had not generated any lines of possible compromise. 
Eurozone finance ministers are preparing to continue negotiations on Thursday or Friday.

Unless a compromise can be found Greek banks will lose guarantees and emergency assistance at the end of month, leaving the country facing almost certain financial collapse and unable to pay back its debts.

While EU officials are prepared to negotiate a new bailout programme for Greece there is widespread pessimism that there is not enough time over the next 12 days to find a compromise, making an extension of the existing measures the preferred option.

Attitudes have hardened against Greece, and Hans Joerg Schelling, the Austrian finance minister, accused Mr Varoufakis of damaging trust by agreeing a joint statement with the eurozone only to pull out at the last moment.

Greece’s crunch talks with its European creditors broke down after just four hours today, pushing the country closer towards a potential exit from the single currency.
Greece refused to countenance an extension of the existing €172bn bailout programme, while the rest of the eurozone’s finance ministers said this was a non-negotiable first step to talks.

“There is no alternative to a request to an extension of the programme” said Pierre Moscovici, the European Commission’s economics and financial affairs commissioner. That  was echoed by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chairman of the Eurogroup. “It is up to the Greek authorities now to decide whether they would want such an extension” he said. “There was a very strong opinion across the whole Eurogroup that it has to come from the Greek authorities... They have to make up their mind whether they will ask for an extension of the current programme.”

The Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, tonight said there would be no capitulation to the pressure from the Eurogroup. “Nothing good has ever come out of ultimatums... In the next few days any notion of ultimatum is going to be withdrawn,” he said.

The country’s bailout is due to lapse on 28 February. Without a new agreement in place by then, Greece could find its banking system shut off from access to the European Central Bank’s liquidity lifeline.

There were few signs of support for Greece from other eurozone states last night. “There is no chance of a bridge loan [for Greece],  so this has left us working with the extension of the programme,” said Edward Scicluna, the Maltese Finance Minister. Asked what would happen if the Greeks did not ask for a programme extension, he added: “That would be it; it would be a disaster.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a thinly-veiled criticism at the Obama administration Monday for reportedly withholding information from Israel regarding the ongoing US-led nuclear talks with Iran over suspicions that Netanyahu authorized leaks of the negotiation’s details.

“Just as Iran knows what deal is being outlined in the negotiations, its only natural that Israel also know the agreement being drafted,” Netanyahu said in Hebrew at the start of his address at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“But if there is anyone who thinks that this is a good agreement, why should it be hidden?”

On Sunday, Israeli media outlets reported that the Obama administration kept Israel in the dark regarding the details and progress of the talks, over fears that the Israeli leader was undermining the talks and using it for political gain.
Netanyahu, who continued his address in English, went on to reiterate the importance of addressing US lawmakers concerning the threat of a nuclear armed Iran.

He called his upcoming March 3 speech before the US Congress an “obligation,” and said he would “do everything in my power to prevent the conclusion of a bad deal that could threaten the survival of the State of Israel.”

Responding to criticisms that his invitation was a slight to the US president and Democratic lawmakers, Netanyahu insisted that the speech was not a partisan issue. “The survival of Israel is not a partisan issue. It concerns everyone, all the supporters of Israel from every political stripe. The fight against militant Islamic terrorism is not a partisan issue,” he said.

Strong Quake (6.9) Hits Northern Japan

A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 struck off northeastern Japan on Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, and small waves were reported along the northern coast but there were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries.

Broadcaster NHK said thousands of residents in the area had been ordered to evacuate.

Live video from ports on the Iwate coast showed small waves lapping on the shore. Towns along the northeastern coast of Japan had been leveled in a devastating tsunami in March 2011.

The agency warned residents against entering the ocean and said waves could continue to fluctuate for some time.
Tuesday's quake was measured at a depth of about 10 km (6 miles). The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said there was no danger of a Pacific-wide tsunami but the Japan Meteorological Agency issued its tsunami advisory for Iwate prefecture after the quake. 
Tohoku Electric Power Co, which operates the Onagawa and Higashidori nuclear plants in nearby Miyagi and Aomori prefectures, said it saw no irregularities at the facilities after the quake.

All 48 of Japan's nuclear reactors remain offline after a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan.

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