Obama tells Greeks it’s time to make tough decisions

US President, Barack Obama

US President, Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama weighed in Monday on the Greece crisis, telling Greeks they need to make tough choices to save the country from a default and possible messy euro exit.

Greek leaders will have to make “tough decisions” that will be “good for the long term”, stressed Obama following a gathering of world leaders where the tottering Greek economy was high on the agenda.

Meanwhile Germany urged Greece to hurry along talks on a loan deal with its international creditors.

“There’s not much time left. We have to work very hard on this,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the close of a G7 leaders summit.

Greece is on a deadline to reach a deal before its current EU-IMF bailout expires at the end of June, leaving the cash-strapped country with no means of support against a looming default.

Athens must repay 1.6 billion euros ($1.8 billion) to the International Monetary Fund by June 30, funds it cannot hope to raise without an accord.

A default could trigger a series of events that could result in a messy exit from the euro.

But after five months the talks are still stuck on disagreement between Greece and its creditors on its future budget goals, economic reforms and tax revenues.

The radical left government in Athens said it would continue efforts to reach agreement despite testy exchanges with European officials in recent days.

And Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has sought a meeting on Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of an EU-Latin America summit in Brussels.

“Talks are continuing in Brussels at a political level to examine the prospects of a common agreement,” Greek government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told reporters.

He added that Minister of State Nikos Pappas, one of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ closest advisors, had joined the technical mission for Monday’s talks.

– Stop finger-pointing –

Greece’s finance minister said on Monday it was time the finger-pointing in debt talks with its EU-IMF creditors stopped and that both sides come to an agreement.

“It is time to stop pointing fingers at one another and it is time that we do our job to bring to fruition months of efforts to come to an agreement,” Yanis Varoufakis said in Berlin after meeting German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

The Commission last week presented Greece with a five-page list of proposed reforms, including sales tax hikes and cuts to civil servants’ salaries and pensions.

Tsipras rejected the proposals as “absurd” and wants a 47-page blueprint his government put forward this past week to serve as the basis for the talks.

Varoufakis himself had termed the proposals “borderline insulting” over the weekend.

Tsipras, 40, is under pressure from hardliners in his radical left Syriza party to reject any deal that piles further austerity on the recession-hit country.

Several Syriza members have called for early elections if the government is forced to accept austerity measures outside its mandate.

“If we cannot bring this to a conclusion, I believe the people should be asked to give a mandate with certain new limits,” Labour Minister Panos Skourletis told the Mega channel on Monday.

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker criticised Tsipras over the weekend, accusing the Greek leader of misrepresenting the proposals and failing to deliver a promised list of alternative reforms.

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