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Bank offers signs of hope for Greece

Greece’s finance minister, Yannis Stournaras (left), and the European Central Bank’s Joerg Asmussen spoke in Athens.

Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Greece’s finance minister, Yannis Stournaras (left), and the European Central Bank’s Joerg Asmussen spoke in Athens.

ATHENS — A top European Central Bank official deflected the growing speculation that Greece will require a new financial aid deal, saying on Wednesday it will not be clear for months whether Athens would even qualify for more assistance.

Joerg Asmussen, one of the ECB’s six executive board members, said the easing of Greece’s recession in the April-June quarter provided the first signs of stabilization and that there had been progress in finances.

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“I have huge respect for what has happened and I would suggest [Greece continues] with the reforms that have started . . . [and shows] perseverance, even if it is difficult to do so,” he said after a meeting in Athens with Greece’s finance minister, Yannis Stournaras.

But he said his talks had not touched on potential future financial aid or debt relief. A day earlier, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, had roused talk of another rescue for Greece, saying the country will need one — his clearest statement yet on the issue.

The International Monetary Fund, a key rescue loan provider, predicted last month that the bailout program would fall short of Greece’s needs by $5.84 billion next year and by $8.63 billion in 2015. Describing the expected shortfall as a “test of European support,” the IMF said that finance ministers from the 17 euro countries have begun discussions on plugging financing gaps.

Schaeuble did not specify what form the new aid should take, but ruled out a write-down on Greece’s public debt, which is now mainly bailout loans owed to other European governments.

Asmussen said Greece would have to achieve a primary surplus — budget income, excluding interest payments on debt — and fully comply with its austerity commitments.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said it would only be clear in the middle of next year what sums might be necessary for a new rescue package.

Opinions in the rest of Europe are divided on the matter. France’s finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, said he saw no need for a new aid deal.

“This program is on track, that Greece is making enormous efforts to right itself . . . I myself don’t see the urgent need for a new program for Greece,” Moscovici told France Inter radio on Tuesday.

International debt inspectors from the ECB, IMF, and European Commission, known as the troika, will return to Athens in September to review progress. Their findings will help clarify whether Greece will be able to support itself once the bailout program ends.

“We shall also assess a possible extension of the Greek program and its funding,” Olli Rehn, the top monetary official at the European Commission, said to the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat.

According to the paper, Rehn wrote in an e-mail that one option would be to extend the maturity of Greece’s loans.

Greece first began receiving rescue loans from other countries in May 2010.

To qualify for the loans, Greece pushed through repeated rounds of austerity measures, slashing state spending, cutting state sector salaries and pensions, and increasing taxes across the board.

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