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Greek bid on bailout could fuel a standoff

Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras (right) has a series of meetings with European leaders this week.
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras (right) has a series of meetings with European leaders this week.Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

FRANKFURT — While the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, will be greeted with military honors when he arrives in Berlin on Friday, his pleas for easier bailout terms could meet with a cool reception, setting up a standoff that could unsettle the financial markets next week.

Their summer vacations over, European political leaders appear to have resumed the maneuvering that has so often caused market turmoil and frustrated outsiders hoping for a quick solution to the eurozone debt crisis.

Samaras, who leads a fragile coalition, is under intense political pressure at home to provide relief from the austerity that has made life tough for many Greeks. Amid continuous political turmoil and depressionlike economic conditions, Greece has not been able to meet the timetable to get government spending under control or carry out changes intended to improve tax collection and create a better climate for business.

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During a week that will take him to Berlin and Paris, Samaras is expected to ask for a two-year extension for Greece to meet its budgetary and reform commitments. He is scheduled to meet with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, on Friday, and Francois Hollande, the president of France, on Saturday. In addition, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg and head of the Eurogroup of 17 eurozone finance ministers, will meet Samaras in Athens on Wednesday.

But top German officials signaled that Greece could face opposition in its bid for concessions. Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, expressed reluctance to grant more aid to Greece.

‘‘It is not responsible to throw money into a bottomless pit,’’ Schauble said in Berlin on Saturday, Reuters reported. ‘‘We cannot create yet another new program.’’

Volker Kauder, a top official of Merkel’s Christian Democrat party, echoed his concerns. Kauder told the magazine Der Spiegel that German lawmakers were unwilling to give Greece more time to meet commitments, or to ease the terms. ‘‘Sooner or later,’’ said Kauder, the leader of the Christian Democrat delegation in Parliament, the Greeks ‘‘must answer the question: Should we maybe try a little harder, or should we leave the euro?’’

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After a brief quiet period in recent weeks as most political leaders went on vacation, the eurozone faces several crucial events that could determine whether the common currency survives.

This week, there will be meetings of top leaders with the objective of overcoming German reluctance to aid Greece and other debt-ridden countries like Spain. On Monday, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Greek foreign minister, will meet his counterpart in Berlin, Guido Westerwelle. Hollande will visit Merkel in Berlin on Thursday, and is likely to urge her to allow concessions for Greece.

German officials have a history of talking tough before such meetings as a negotiating tactic, and have often been more flexible. Despite regular pronouncements that the eurozone could survive Greece’s exit, leaders in Berlin and elsewhere are unlikely to want to take such an enormous risk. Last week, Merkel sounded relatively conciliatory.

‘‘European heads of government also feel a duty and have a duty to do everything possible to preserve the common currency,’’ she said.