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Greek debt deal close, says French finance minister on Athens visit

France's Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire (R) speaks with Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) during a meeting at the Maximou Mansion in Athens, on 12 June, 2017. Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP

A deal on debt relief for Greece is "not far off", France's new finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday ahead of eurozone talks set to take place on Thursday.

"I am optimistic that we will have a good solution. We are not far from agreement," Le Maire said ahead of a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

The issue of debt relief for Greece has sharply divided its international creditors, the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), for months in the latest round of talks.

€7 billion by next month

The Europeans expect Greece's economy to grow strongly and its government to bring in large surpluses in revenue in the coming years, allowing it to pay down its debts.

Greece signed an 86-billion-euro bailout in July 2015 and is expected to pay back seven billion euros to its creditors by next month.

But the IMF is less optimistic, arguing there must be further relief for Athens before it can label its debt sustainable and justify loaning Greece any more cash.

Macron wants speedy deal

French President Emmanuel Macron called Tsipras after being elected last month, saying he was in favour of "finding a deal soon to alleviate the weight of Greece's debt over time."

Macron's position puts him at odds with Germany where Greek debt relief -- following three different bailouts with public money for the country since 2010 -- is seen as a vote loser ahead of a general election in September.

Macron explained his thinking about Greece in an interview to the Mediapart website two days before his election.

"I am in principle in favour of a concerted restructuring of Greek debt and in keeping Greece in the eurozone. Why? Because the current system is unsustainable," he said.