UPDATE 1-Eurozone officials rule out IMF’s exclusion from Greek bailout

ATHENS The IMF will not be excluded from Greece’s third bailout program review, Eurozone officials told Greece on Saturday after its prime minister said the global lender was not playing a constructive role.

Earlier this week Alexis Tsipras accused the IMF of making unrealistic reform demands, triggering a reaction from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, who said it was not in Greece’s interest to question the fund’s involvement.

“There is no chance that the first review will conclude without the IMF,” Eurogroup Working Group President Thomas Wieser told the Kathimerini weekly newspaper.

“This is not my personal opinion or that of EU institutions, but a reality that occurs from the parliamentary procedures in some member states,” he said.

The IMF said earlier this year it would wait to see the outcome of Greece’s debt relief talks with EU partners before agreeing to inject new cash as part of an 86 billion euro ($ 94.45 billion) third bailout program.

Athens, meanwhile, hopes to start debt relief talks in February after a successful conclusion of the latest bailout’s first review that includes a painful pension reform.

Another European official, European Stability Mechanism (ESM) chief Klaus Regling, said on Saturday the IMF would participate in Greece’s bailout with a small contribution, adding in an interview to weekly newspaper To Vima that this was agreed in July.

The ESM chief said the organization aimed to re-profile Greece’s debt and smoothen servicing payments to make it viable and attract investors.

“We will aim to smoothen the profile of the debt… If we manage to extend a little more the period of the already very low repayments, then we will attract investors,” he said.

Earlier this month Greek finance minister Tsakalotos told Reuters he saw a 50-50 chance of Greece tapping capital markets by the end of 2016 – the first time it would do so since it was excluded from them in 2010.

(Reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos; Editing by Clelia Oziel)