Government in flurry of diplomacy to secure deal

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis on Tuesday are to press on with an international diplomatic offensive aimed at drumming up support for the Greek government’s aim to strike a new deal with the country’s creditors with less austerity and the prospect of debt relief.

Both Tsipras and Varoufakis are due in Rome Tuesday to meet with their Italian counterparts after a weekend of weighty statements expressing support for a solution to Greece’s problems that stopped short, however, of backing the leftist-led government’s calls for debt relief. On Sunday night, in an interview with CNN, US President Barack Obama spoke out against excessive austerity in Europe and suggested Greece needed a “growth strategy” to help pay off its debts. His comments came shortly after French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Paris supported “a new contract” between Greece and its partners though no writedown on its debt.

The Greek government was buoyed by these statements which, sources believe, support its efforts to secure a transitional period between the current European bailout agreement, which is to expire at the end of this month, and a new arrangement between the SYRIZA-led government and the country’s creditors.

Talks between Varoufakis and his British counterpart George Osborne in London Monday also produced a statement suggesting the keenness of European officials to solve the Greek problem. “It is clear that the standoff between Greece and the eurozone is the greatest risk to the global economy,” Osborne said and urged all sides to “act responsibly.”

Tuesday’s scheduled meeting in Rome between Tsipras and Italian premier Matteo Renzi will be closely watched after the latter repeated his view that Europe must ease austerity but also called for “prudence and responsibility” in the handling of the Greek situation.

Another key meeting is set for Wednesday in Brussels between Tsipras and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Some believe those talks could lead to a framework being drawn up for a political agreement between Greece and its creditors.

After meeting Juncker, Tsipras is to fly to Paris for talks with French President Francois Hollande who has also pushed back against a German-led austerity drive in Europe.

In comments from Nicosia on Monday, on his first official foreign visit as Greek premier, Tsipras said he was keen to “work together with countries of the EU who share these opinions, namely that emphasis should be given to matters of growth.”

It remained unclear when Tsipras’s first – and indisputably pivotal – meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to take place, though officials in Berlin indicated Monday that the two leaders would have “the opportunity” to meet at a European Union summit on February 12. As for Varoufakis, he announced his intention to visit Berlin “in the coming days” for talks with Wolfgang Schaeuble but German officials said a meeting has yet to be scheduled.

According to sources European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici met with Schaeuble in Berlin Monday night for talks that focused on Greece.

Separately, as the European Central Bank prepares to decide at a governing council meeting on Wednesday whether to extend the provision of emergency liquidity assistance for Greek banks, Alternate Administrative Reform Minister Giorgos Katrougalos called on the ECB, in an interview with Germany’s Bild, to add to its quantitative easing program by printing euros.