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Greece seeks time, not aid

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, right, listened as Jean Claude Junker, prime minister of Luxembourg, spoke at a joint news conference after their meeting in Athens Wednesday

Associated Press

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, right, listened as Jean Claude Junker, prime minister of Luxembourg, spoke at a joint news conference after their meeting in Athens Wednesday.

BERLIN — Greece’s prime minister struck a conciliatory tone Wednesday before a closely watched visit to Germany, maintaining in interviews with two influential newspapers that his country does not want more money, just more time to deliver on promised economic reforms and spending cuts.

Antonis Samaras heads to Berlin on Friday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is the largest single contributor to Greece’s $300 billion bailout packages. German officials and some lawmakers in Merkel’s coalition government have made clear they are in no mood to grant significant concessions.

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‘‘Let me be very clear: We are not asking for extra money,’’ Samaras told Germany’s top-selling Bild newspaper in an interview published Wednesday. ‘‘We stand by our commitments and the implementation of all requirements. But we must encourage growth, because that reduces the financing gaps.’’

‘‘All we want is a little ‘air to breathe’ to get the economy going and increase state income,’’ Samaras added, without specifying any timeframe. ‘‘More time does not automatically mean more money.’’

Some German politicians have talked openly in recent weeks about the possibility of Greece leaving the euro, and the vice chancellor, Economy Minister Philipp Roesler, has said that the idea of a Greek exit has ‘‘lost its horror.’’

But Athens says the country must remain in the 17-nation currency zone — something that opinion polls have shown the vast majority of Greeks want.

Asked by Bild whether leaving the euro and returning to the drachma would be better, Samaras replied that ‘‘the consequences would be a catastrophe for Greece.’’

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‘‘It would mean at least five more years of recession and push unemployment above 40 percent,’’ he was quoted as saying. ‘‘A nightmare for Greece: economic collapse, social unrest, and an unprecedented crisis of democracy.’’

Before coming to power, Samaras pledged to seek a two-year extension to the deadline for implementing unpopular cuts demanded in exchange for two international aid packages that are keeping Greece afloat.

Greece’s economy is struggling through a fifth year of recession with unemployment above 23 percent. Still, asked by Bild whether Greece needs a second debt write-down following one earlier this year, Samaras replied: ‘‘That has never been discussed.’’

In a separate interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung, ­Samaras said his government would achieve the promised budget cuts over two years — a prerequisite for Greece to receive the next tranche of aid. If the payment does not occur, ‘‘Greece will go bust,’’ he said.

After meeting with Merkel on Friday, Samaras will travel to Paris for talks with President Francois Hollande of France. Both meetings are seen as key diplomatic way stations ahead of an assessment of Greece’s efforts by inspectors from the International Monetary Fund, European Union, and European Central Bank.

Samaras said he hoped European countries would give Greece more financial leeway and allow the country to meet its deficit target of 3 percent by 2016 — not 2014 as demanded by the troika. He did not say whether he would be putting these proposals to Merkel during their meeting but added that ‘‘Greece is bleeding, it’s really bleeding.’’

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