Iceland’s finance minister said on Monday the government was ready to resume talks with Britain and the Netherlands on Icesave without preconditions and expressed hope a deal could be reached in “not too many weeks”.
Earlier this month, Icelanders overwhelmingly rejected the terms of a deal to repay Britain and the Netherlands more than $5 billion lost by foreign savers in Iceland’s banking collapse.
The spat has held up aid for Iceland’s stricken economy.
“We are ready to resume talks without preconditions. We are happy to sit down,” Finance Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson told reporters on the sidelines of a news conference held after a meeting of Nordic ministers.
“We are not at the point yet where we have been able to decide on formal negotiating meetings. But we keep in contact,” he said.
Sigfusson said he was disappointed about the delay and that, with elections looming in the Netherlands and Britain, it would be good to have a new accord in “not too many weeks”.
Iceland’s banks collapsed in late 2008, victims of the global credit crunch and a decade of debt-fuelled expansion across northern Europe.
The collapse tipped Iceland into a biting recession and recovery has been hampered by the Icesave issue, which has cut off aid from the International Monetary Fund and Iceland’s Nordic neighbours.
Last week the Dutch said they and the UK were ready to talk again, but that Iceland needed to make a new proposal to bridge the impasse.
Icelanders rejected an earlier deal in a referendum on March 6 which would have seen them repay the money over more than a decade, with stiff interest costs.
The result of the vote had been widely expected and the three countries have been discussing for weeks how to frame a new agreement which would allow the British and Dutch to get back money they paid out to “Icesave” account holders while putting less of a burden on Iceland’s 320,000 population.
Talks about a new deal broke down before the referendum and restarting them has proved tough.
“It has taken a longer time than we thought to resume talks but we are working on it and let’s be hopeful we can move forward in not too many days from now,” Sigfusson said.
Iceland’s foreign affairs committee will meet with its British counterpart tomorrow to discuss Icesave, but the groups are not directly involved in the negotiating process.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; editing by Noah Barkin)