ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's labor minister said on Tuesday Athens would soon conclude a deal with its foreign creditors that could unlock further loans to the cash-starved country.
Greece's new government has been in talks with its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders over the past four months about the release of around 7.2 billion euros ($8.1 billion) in aid.
Asked on Greek TV when Athens would reach the cash-for-reform deal, Labour Minister Panos Skourletis said: "De facto, in the coming days."
"There's a deadline, which is June 5," he said - the date on which Greece's next repayment of a loan to the IMF falls due. "We all know that if there is no solution, let's say until then, in relation to funding, things will be difficult.
Greece faces payments of about 1.5 billion euros to the IMF next month. It made its last repayment of about 750 million euros to the IMF last week by emptying a holding account at the Fund.
Speaking on a late-night talk show on Monday, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said the government hopes it can both make debt repayments and pay wages and pensions in June, but if it has to choose, it will choose the latter.
The Greek government took power in January promising to end years of EU/IMF-imposed austerity that worsened a deep recession and pushed up unemployment and poverty. Not accepting cuts to pensions and wages is one of its so-called red lines.
The creditors, on the other hand, have been demanding Greece implement reforms, including pension cuts and labor market liberalization. Talks on the conflict have been deadlocked.
They two sides are now getting closer to an understanding, the EU's monetary affairs chief, Pierre Moscovici, said on Monday. But the European Commission denied a report in a Greek newspaper the commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, had made a new, more lenient proposal.
Most Greeks are unhappy with their government's negotiating strategy, a poll published late on Monday found.
According to the survey carried out on May 13-15 by the University of Macedonia, 41 percent of Greeks believe the governments negotiating strategy "is not stable and is therefore sometimes right and sometimes wrong." Thirty-five percent believed it was right, compared to 72 percent in February.
As many as 61 percent believe the government should water down its pre-election pledges given the circumstances, the poll said, compared with 35 percent who want them seen through.
($1 = 0.8864 euros)
(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Angeliki Koutantou)