Greece's Varoufakis to meet Lagarde ahead of IMF deadline

Katerina Nikolopoulou
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Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis gestures before the start of a meeting of Eurogroup finance ministers in Brussels, on March 9, 2015

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis gestures before the start of a meeting of Eurogroup finance ministers in Brussels, on March 9, 2015 (AFP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand)

Athens (AFP) - Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will meet IMF chief Christine Lagarde in Washington on Sunday ahead of the country's April 9 deadline for its next payment to the fund.

Varoufakis and Lagarde will have "an unofficial discussion on the Greek government's reform programme", according to a Greek Ministry of Finance statement on Saturday.

Another government source told AFP that Varoufakis "will also meet with United States Treasury officials" on Monday, including Under Secretary for International Affairs Nathan Sheets.

The meetings come amid speculation that Athens might fail to meet the 460-million-euro ($501-million) IMF instalment if forced to choose between the IMF and paying government workers.

Greece has not received the remaining funds in its 240-billion-euro EU-IMF rescue package as Brussels has demanded to first approve Greece's revised reform plan.

But junior finance minister Dimitris Mardas said Saturday that the state does have the money needed for the IMF payment.

"The payment to the IMF will take place on April 9. There is money for the payment of salaries, pensions and whatever else is needed in the next week," he told Mega TV.

The IMF meanwhile denied a report in the German magazine Spiegel that it had withdrawn its staff temporarily in protest at the Greek government's slowness in implementing reforms.

- Courting Moscow -

Athens is betting on next week's Euro Working Group meetings to give it some relief from its creditors.

Eurozone deputy finance ministers will meet on April 8 and 9 in an attempt to reach an agreement on the list of Greek reforms needed to unlock the last tranche of the bailout package.

However, the tensions between Brussels and Athens have not gone away, and a high-profile Greek minister was defiant Saturday about the screws being put on his government.

Energy and output minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads the far left wing of the ruling Syriza party, accused Greece's European partners of being annoyed at having to work with a radical left government.

"The institutions and especially the German establishment are treating the government with doctrinal superstition and the country like a semi-colonial state," he told Agora newspaper.

"They are not interested in the content of our proposals, but they are bothered those proposals are coming from a radical left-led government.

"That annoys them to the point of hysteria," he added.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meanwhile has stepped up his courting of Russia.

Tsipras, who was already scheduled to visit Russia in May for its annual Victory Day parade, will now also travel to Moscow on Wednesday for surprise talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tsipras, a former Communist, has made no secret of seeking closer ties to Russia at a time when Moscow is at loggerheads with Europe and the West over the conflict in Ukraine.

Upon taking office in January, the new Greek government protested against an EU threat of further sanctions against Russia.