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Greece's 2014 fiscal gap issue largely resolved

Greece and its foreign lenders have largely bridged differences over a potential fiscal gap this year, removing a key sticking point holding up talks to release more bailout funds, two sources directly involved in the talks said to Reuters on Tuesday.

The latest review of Greece's progress under its European Union/IMF bailout has dragged on since September in large part due to wrangling over how Athens would plug a gap in this year's budget, which had been estimated at 1 billion euros.

However , that is no longer the main issue in talks thanks to surprisingly strong data on a primary surplus for 2013, two sources involved in the negotiations said.

According to Reuters , a third official cautioned that it was too early to say the issue had been fully resolved since complete 2013 data is not yet available. Athens expects to report a primary surplus - i.e, not counting debt - of 1 billion euros in 2013, but the data will be officially confirmed only in April.

The two sides still need to agree on the terms of bank stress tests, structural reforms and the impact of a court ruling reversing some wage cuts before 4.9 billion euros in rescue loans are disbursed, the sources said.

"The picture we have is that the issue of the fiscal gap for 2014 is nearly resolved," a Greek finance ministry official said to Reuters , speaking on condition of anonymity.

A second official confirmed the assessment, adding that the discussions had now moved to assessing a potential fiscal gap for 2015.

Greek officials are hoping a deal with the EU/IMF - talks are now in their fifth month - will be clinched by the end of February, allowing funds to be disbursed in early March.