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European ministers hold off on talks, wait for Greek referendum

BRUSSELS — The Greek government’s attempt to kick-start talks on a new credit package got short shrift from euro zone finance ministers, who decided to put all discussion with Athens on hold until after a referendum on Sunday.

They took the decision in a scheduled conference call that began an hour after leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivered another fiery condemnation of “blackmail” by creditors and called again for Greeks to vote “No” to a bailout deal that has in fact already been taken off the table.

“There will be no further talks in the coming days, not at Eurogroup level, nor between the Greek authorities and the institutions on proposals or financial arrangements,” said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs the Eurogroup.

“We will simply wait now the outcome of the referendum on Sunday and take into account the outcome of the referendum.”

European leaders who have struggled to find accommodations with Athens over five months now seem resigned, following its default to the IMF and expiry of its previous bailout package on Tuesday, to letting politics run their course.

Tsipras has said he will implement the will of the people, but many in the EU question whether he can survive politically if Greeks overturn current opinion polling and vote “Yes” out of fear of losing access to the euro — a threat European leaders have been making clear to them could follow from a “No” vote.

In the meantime, Greece’s euro zone partners see no point in talking further: “Let’s not put the cart before the horse,” tweeted Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir.

Several sources familiar with the hour-long conference call said there appeared to be no dissent from that view. Even French Finance Minister Michel Sapin, who had previously called for negotiations to continue this week, said that following Tsipras’s latest speech there was no point in more discussions.

GREEK PROPOSALS

On Tuesday, with hours left before the expiry of a bailout, Tsipras had written to request an extension on terms similar to those offered by creditors last Friday but seeking important concessions, including a continued VAT discount on islands.

Ministers have said the letter came to late for the bailout to be extended. Euro zone sources said Tsipras’s letter was not discussed in detail on Wednesday but there was consensus that it did not satisfy creditors’ demands for action to control the budget in return for further disbursements of funding.

“At this point we simply took note of these proposals,” Dijsselbloem said.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the Eurogroup saw the proposals going “in the right direction.”

EU officials say negotiating positions reached in the failed process could be the basis for discussions to start on a new, third, bailout for Greece. They have said the euro zone is willing to consider Tsipras’s request for a two-year loan and also to look at offering Greece some debt relief.

“To get past the start, in any negotiations, Greece has to draw up a realistic plan covering the actions needed to save the economy and to commit to implement it,” said Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb. “Unfortunately, this speech by Prime Minister Tsipras today did not increase our confidence in the Greek government’s willingness to cooperate.”

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