World Bulletin / News Desk
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras kicks off a European charm offensive on Wednesday with talks to persuade euro zone chief Jean-Claude Juncker that the debt-laden nation has the will to ram through unpopular reforms and deserves more time to do it.
With cash coffers running empty and renewed talk of a Greek euro zone exit without more aid, Samaras is under pressure to convince European leaders that Greece has finally mustered the political courage to fulfill pledges under its latest bailout.
Juncker, the most influential European policymaker to visit Athens since Samaras's conservative-led government took power in June, is expected to bluntly tell Samaras that Greece must carry out promised cuts and that little room for leeway exists.
That message is likely to be hammered home again to the Greek leader when he travels to Berlin on Friday to meet German Chancelor Angela Merkel and to Paris a day later for talks with French President Francois Hollande.
Days after being elected, Samaras's government promised he would embark on a European tour to seek two more years to hit targets under Greece's 130-billion euro bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
But faced with the reality of a messy bankruptcy without further aid, the government has since toned down its rhetoric on the issue and now expects to only broach the idea during talks this week rather than formally requesting it.
"We must first re-establish our relationship with European partners that has been seriously damaged," said a government official, who spoke on condition he not be identified. "This is most crucial. Talking about certain parameters then comes at a second stage."
European paymaster Germany, where patience over Greece has worn thin, has already said it will not soften its demands from the twice-bailed out country.
WRANGLING OVER CUTS
Key to restoring credibility will be Greece's attempt to push through 11.5 billion euros of cuts over the next two years as demanded under the bailout - which Samaras's administration has yet to fully piece together after weeks of wrangling.
Samaras and his moderate leftist and Socialist allies have broadly agreed on the measures, but the government is still struggling to nail down the final cuts amid howls of protest over plans to slash pensions and put civil servants in a so-called labour reserve before laying them off.
"We are trying to find the best possible mix and a fair distribution of pensions. We also have to protect those getting very low pensions," a finance ministry official said. "A second issue we continue to work on is the labour reserve."
Because salary and pension cuts will lead to lower tax revenues, the government will have to find 13.5 billion euros in nominal savings to achieve its 11.5 billion target, the official said. Parties have identified 10.8 billion in cuts so far.
The measures will be presented for approval to the troika of European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund lenders due back in Athens early next month for a final verdict on whether to keep money flowing to Greece.
After his election victory in June averted fears of an imminent Greek euro zone exit, Samaras won a positive initial reception from European governments. A Reuters poll last week showed a growing number of economists now believe Greece will remain in the euro zone.
But the debt-stricken country is hugely off track from targets under its bailout and EU officials expect a further debt restructuring will be likely - with the cost falling on the European Central Bank and euro zone governments.
Greece blames the slippage on a deeper than expected recession that is now in its fifth year and which Athens has likened to America's "Great Depression". Nearly one out of four Greeks are jobless, and thousands of businesses have shuttered since the sovereign debt crisis exploded in 2009.
Dollar strength and waning investor confidence are driving the lira lower
Greece has already received two bailouts totalling 240 billion euros but fellow euro zone member Ireland said last week that it would have to negotiate a third programme.
The Ukraine crisis has tested the loyalties of Bulgaria, a Balkan country with historical ties to Moscow and heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies.
Syria expels three United Nations aid workers hindering aid development in the country
Russia has overcome a "psychological barrier" and is ready to deepen its economic ties with China, Deputy Prime MinisterArkady Dvorkovich said
With Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left coalition plus the opposition Greens, it was the biggest majority for any euro zone rescue package so far in the 631-seat chamber.
The agreement commits Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi to cooperate with the United States in customs issues, ease red tape at borders, reduce customs wait times and harmonize trade standards.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has unnerved China with his re-examination of certain projects that Chinahas invested in, including a $1.5 billion "port city" project in Colombo.
EU energy chief Maros Sefcovic invited Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Demchyshyn for talks
Gazprom and Ukrainian state energy firm Naftogaz have accused each other of not sticking to agreements on gas supplies.
The new canal, that will allow two-way traffic of larger ships, is supposed to increase revenues by 2023 to $13 billion.
A day after euro zone finance ministers agreed to a four-month extension of a financial rescue, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis gave a frank assessment of Greece's financial position.
The agreement is the culmination of talks that began in September after the government decided its own solutions to its fiscal crisis were failing to convince investors.
Energy union highlights bloc's attempt to seek independency from its main gas supplier - Russia.
Merkel's right-left coalition is set to prevail, despite vocal pockets of resistance on the right and left.
Republicans passed the bill to increase pressure on Obama to approve the pipeline, a move the president said would bypass a State Department process that will determine whether the project is in the U.S. national interest.