[ATHENS] Talks between Greece and its international creditors over a new bailout package will be delayed by a couple of days because of organisational issues, a finance ministry official said on Saturday.
The meetings with officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund were supposed to start on Monday after being delayed for issues including the location of talks and security last week.
A finance ministry official, who declined to be named, said talks between the technical teams of the lenders will start on Tuesday, while the mission chiefs will arrive in Athens with a delay of a couple of days for technical reasons. "The reasons for the delay are neither political, nor diplomatic ones," the official added.
Greeks have viewed inspections visits by the lenders in Athens as a violation of the country's sovereignty and six months of acrimonious negotiations with EU partners took place in Brussels at the government's request.
Another finance ministry official denied earlier on Saturday that the government was trying to keep the lenders' team away from government departments and had no problem with them visiting the General Accounting Office..
Asked if the government would now allow EU, IMF and ECB mission chiefs to visit Athens for talks on a new loan, State Minister Alekos Flabouraris said: "If the agreement says that they should visit a ministry, we have to accept that." The confusion around the expected start to the talks on Friday underlined the challenges ahead if negotiations are to be wrapped up in time for a bailout worth up to 86 billion euros to be approved in parliament by Aug 20, as Greece intends.
Already, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is struggling to contain a rebellion in his left-wing Syriza party that made his government dependent on votes from pro-European opposition parties to get the tough bailout terms approved in parliament.
One of Mr Tsipras' closest aides said that the understanding with the opposition parties could not last long and a clear solution was needed, underlining widespread expectations that new elections may come as soon as September or October. "The country cannot go on with a minority government for long. We need clear, strong solutions," State Minister Nikos Pappas told the weekly Ependysi in an interview published on Saturday.
Apart from the terms of a new loan, Greece and its lenders are also expected to discuss the sustainability of its debt, which is around 170 percent of GDP. Greece has repeatedly asked for a debt relief and the IMF has said this is needed for the Greek accord to be viable.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told Italy's La Stampa daily in an interview that a recent analysis on the issue "justified some concerns". He added a Greek exit from the euro was "certainly out of the question now".
Mr Tsipras, who is by far the most popular politician in Greece according to opinion polls, has said his priority is to secure the bailout package before dealing with the political fallout from the Syriza party rebellion.