Greece, creditors resume bailout talks amid leak dispute

ATHENS, Greece – Greece’s government started a new round of austerity talks with bailout creditors Monday amid a dispute over a wiretapped and leaked conversation between foreign officials involved in the Greek rescue negotiations.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos met representatives of Greece’s European creditors and the International Monetary Fund, following a two-week Easter break. The main sticking points in the long-dragging talks are mandated new pension cuts, tax reforms and future cuts Greece is under pressure to make to meet bailout targets.

Tsakalotos said afterwards that the “introductory” meeting focused on how talks would proceed over the coming week, and that the leaked IMF conference call wasn’t brought up by either side.

But Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras later accused the IMF of “inexcusably delaying” the negotiations and making unreasonable demands on Greece. He also accused the fund of engaging in a string of “mistakes and nonsense” since the beginning of the Greek debt crisis with wrong forecasts on key economic data.

In a speech to his governing Syriza party’s lawmakers, Tsipras said the current negotiations should have already been concluded and “must end within a few days,” to allow a solution by April 22, date of the next meeting of finance ministers from the 19-country eurozone.

Greece has depended on bailouts since it lost access to market funding in 2010. Last summer, Tsipras’s left-led government performed a policy U-turn and signed a third rescue loan agreement worth about 86 billion euros. But regular disbursal of the funds depends on how bailout creditors assess the government’s implementation of agreed reforms and cutbacks.

The angry comments from Athens were triggered by the WikiLeaks organization’s weekend publication of the alleged IMF call transcript. The text confirmed divisions between the IMF — which is more hawkish on the extent of required austerity measures — and European creditors over the bailout, with the IMF pressing for a deal to substantially relieve Greece’s crippling debt burden, an idea the Europeans treat with little enthusiasm.

Citing the leak, Athens quickly accused the IMF of considering using a potential Greek bankruptcy to strengthen its negotiating position — which IMF head Christine Lagarde curtly dismissed as “nonsense.”

The Greek government distanced itself from speculation it might be behind the leak, with a statement from Tsipras’ office Monday saying the country is “perfectly secure, much more so than other countries where the overwhelming majority of the WikiLeaks leaks have taken place.”

The statement said the negotiations should conclude as soon as possible, “without unreal demands for additional measures, beyond what last July’s agreement stipulates.”

German Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said Monday that Berlin still believes it is “realistic” to complete the review by Greek Easter at the end of April.

“We don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible to manage that with good will and political energy on the part of Greece,” he said. But he added: “A debt cut is not up for debate at the moment.”

Outside the Athens hotel where Monday’s bailout talks were held, about 200 members of Greece’s main civil servants’ union, ADEDY and leftwing party supporters held a peaceful protest, chanting “Greeks, fight back, the European Union and the IMF are drinking your blood.”

ADEDY has called a 24-hour strike and protest march Thursday against the proposed new cutbacks.