June 29, 2017 / 10:56 AM / 23 days ago

Greece says can return to bond markets even without ECB buying

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos arrives for a cabinet meeting at the parliament in Athens, Greece June 13, 2017.Costas Baltas/Files

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's short-term objective is to return to bond markets and this will be possible even without the inclusion of its bonds in the European Central Bank's asset-buying programme, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said on Thursday.

Euro zone governments sketched new detail on possible debt relief for the crisis-hit country on June 15 and approved the release of 8.5 billion euros in bailout loans wrapping up a progress review which dragged on more than six months.

But the ECB has said conditions are not right yet for Greece to be included in its bond-buying quantitative easing programme.

"The Greek government now has a short to medium-term objective which is of course access to the markets, which is... a possibility with or without QE," said told an Economist conference in Athens.

Tsakalotos said that Greece would "soon indicate" to investors the strategy for its bond market return -- the first since 2014 -- but the aim, he said, was not to make just a one-off attempt.

"We don't want to go too early but ... when we do go, we want to ensure that markets know that this is part of a strategy," he said.

The June 15 agreement was a relief for the Greek government which is sagging in opinion polls and wants to convince Greeks that, after seven years of belt-tightening, their sacrifices are paying off and the country can emerge from crisis.

It initially aimed for a debt relief deal which would allow its bonds to be included in the ECB's asset-buying programme and therefore help speed up its market return efforts.

Tsakalotos said quantitative easing would help Greek banks, but that it was largely symbolic.

"I wouldn't elevate it too high and I don't think that investment funds and equity funds elevate it that high," he said. "It is very useful, it is important, but mostly it is symbolic."

Tsakalotos said he was "entirely confident" that Greece would post "good growth" in 2017 and 2018, but the country's aim was to make sure that this growth is sustainable.

Speaking at the same conference, European Stability Mechanism Chief Klaus Regling urged Greece to stick to reforms and said he was confident it would return to bond markets before it's programme ends in 2018.

Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.

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