Eurozone leaders were upbeat Friday about the chances of a Greek rescue package deal early next week despite high tensions after Greece adopted a raft of painful austerity measures.
Eurozone central banks began a debt swap of Greek bonds in what could mark a key step towards a much wider deal to save Athens from bankruptcy, as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the crisis by phone with Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.
The three "were confident that a deal can be reached on Greece at the Eurogroup on Monday" in Brussels, the Italian government said of the conference call, which came after Merkel cancelled scheduled a visit to Rome.
The 17-nation eurozone is under pressure to approve a Greek rescue package worth 130 billion euros ($171 billion) and secure a writedown on privately held government bonds worth 100 billion euros to avoid Greece defaulting.
Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg underscored the need for a deal on the debt rescue package, telling media it would be "wise, judicious and commendable for us to agree on the contours of a second programme."
A German finance ministry spokesman said Berlin expected Monday's meeting to result in a decision but stressed there were still outstanding issues, notably the establishment of an escrow account for debt repayments.
There was also still no agreement on how to monitor Greece's economic policy or on ensuring debt sustainability, spokesman Martin Kotthaus said, adding that European officials would work over the weekend on those issues.
"We are coming ever closer to a final basis for a decision on Monday but ... there are still details to be cleared up," he cautioned.
Juncker had said earlier he was confident his colleagues could "take all the necessary decisions on Monday."
Meanwhile, Greek officials who are under pressure to find another 325 million euros in savings have decided on further pension cuts to fill a gap holding up an EU-IMF debt rescue package, labour ministry sources said Friday.
France slammed as "irresponsible" any suggestion that Greece might default on its debt, following reports that some officials in Germany and northern Europe were mulling that possibility.
Asked on RTL radio whether Germany, Finland and the Netherlands might prefer to see Greece bankrupt than to continue to bail it out, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said "everything must be done" to avert such an outcome.
"To play with the idea of a Greek default would be completely irresponsible," the French premier said.
On Wednesday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble suggested there was a limit to support for Greece, warning: "We can help but we are not going to pour money into a bottomless pit."
And on Thursday, Netherlands Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager warned that the Greek rescue plan had failed to make much progress, telling lawmakers in The Hague: "We're back to square one."
This drew a fierce response from Athens, with Greek President Carolos Papoulias demanding: "Who is Mr Schaeuble to taunt Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finns?"
Austerity measures demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have already led to street violence in Greece and anger at EU attempts to gain greater control over Greek public finances.
In Frankfurt, a central bank source told AFP Friday that eurozone central banks had begun to exchange some of their holdings of Greek bonds for new ones.
The German daily Die Welt said the debt swap would be completed by Monday and that profits would be distributed by the European Central Bank to eurozone member states, enabling the money to eventually benefit Greece.