Tsipras plays down chance of rift

After a turbulent first week in office, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to calm fears about his government’s intentions and insisted on Saturday that it had no intention of defaulting on Greece’s debts and would actively try to reach an agreement soon with lenders.

“The deliberation with our European partners has just begun,” he said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg. “Despite the fact that there are differences in perspective, I am absolutely confident that we will soon manage to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, both for Greece and for Europe as a whole.”

The statement came a day after Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis met with Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem to set out the new Greek government’s ideas. The meeting appeared to end on a bad note and Varoufakis later attempted to clarify Athens’s position on the BBC’s “Newsnight” program. Tsipras attempted to downplay concern that Greece is heading for a breakdown in relations with its lenders.

“No side is seeking conflict and it has never been our intention to act unilaterally on the Greek debt,” he said.

“My obligation to respect the clear mandate of the Greek people with respect to ending the policies of austerity and returning to a growth agenda in no way entails that we will not fulfill our loan obligations to the ECB or the IMF.”

Tsipras went on to explain that the government wants to create its own reform program, which would focus on tackling “tax evasion, corruption and clientelistic policies.” He also committed to maintaining “primary balanced budgets.”

“I am convinced that an agreement on these lines will be acceptable to our partners, because our common interest is the economic stability and recovery for our common home, Europe,” he concluded.

In his “Newsnight” interview on Friday night, Varoufakis, who is meeting with European colleagues next week, suggested that the government would need two weeks to brief its partners on its plan for moving forward. The negative climate that emerged after the SYRIZA-led coalition’s first week in office prompted Varoufakis to hold his meeting with France’s Finance Minister Michel Sapin on Sunday, rather than Monday – as had originally been planned.

Varoufakis is also due to meet his counterparts in London and Rome next week. Tsipras is due to travel to Cyprus Monday, followed by visits to Italy and France in the two following days. He is also expected to hold talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of the European Union leaders’ summit on February 12.