ECONOMY

Finance minister upbeat at Washington visit

Greece needs ?national unity? and a ?less expensive state,? Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said in a talk at the Peterson Institute for International Economics on Monday evening in Washington, where he also met with US Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and officials from the International Monetary Fund earlier in the day.

In his speech at the Washington-based think-tank, titled ?The Greek Debt Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities,? Venizelos outlined Greece?s efforts to rein in its public spending and reduce its massive debt pile, saying that the government?s ?goal is to return to positive growth and create primary surpluses by 2012.?

Buoyed by his meeting with Geithner and IMF Managing Director Chirstine Lagarde, which he described as ?positive,? the Greek finance minister and deputy prime minister, said ?all of us together — the IMF, the IIF, the American government, the European Union, the European Central Bank — need to send a strong and clear message: We have a program, we trust in its implementation and its prospects, and we will collectively achieve our goals.”

Greece last week was granted a second bailout worth 109 billion euros, on top of the euro110 billion granted in rescue loans a year ago, from the leaders of the eurozone and the IMF.

Following Venizelos?s address, Petros Christodoulou, head of the Athens-based Public Debt Management Agency, who appeared with the Greek finance minister at the Peterson Institute, said Greece has not requested additional financial help from the IMF. ?There has not been a request,? he told a panel discussion after the finance minister?s speech.

Earlier on Monday, Venizelos had met with Lagarde and other IMF officials to discuss the raft of reforms Greece is bound to implement by its medium-term austerity plan, which includes sweeping reductions in public sector spending, streamlining the civil service and an ambitious liberalization program.

?The important point is the positive and constructive position of the staff, and first of all, of Madame Lagarde,? Venizelos said following his meeting.

Rating agency Moody?s on Monday downgraded Greece?s debt rating to just one notch above default, though Venizelos downplayed the rating, saying «we have this problem with the rating agencies, but for the first time in two years, we have a positive signal from the part of the international financial community.?

Ending his speech at the Peterson Institute on a positive note, Venizelos rallied the support of the Greek Diaspora and praised the people of Greece.

?Together we will succeed in rebuilding our country, restoring its fiscal independence and achieving the competitive position Greece deserves in the international market,? he said, adding ?this is the challenge for the Greek people, a proud people with many assets and skills.?