Argentina's president says his country is close to signing an accord with the International Monetary Fund. President Eduardo Duhalde spoke to reporters on Tuesday, the same day his economy minister left for another round of talks in Washington. Argentina is under pressure to get a deal done this week before a major debt comes due.

President Eduardo Duhalde expects this latest round of talks with the International Monetary Fund will break the deadlock. He says he hopes that, this time, Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna could come home from Washington with a deal.

The president says he believes his government is closer than ever to striking a deal with the IMF, but adds there are still outstanding issues that have to be ironed out.

The protracted negotiations have been marked by frequent disputes over Argentina's poor record of keeping its financial obligations and IMF's insistence in austerity measures the Duhalde government considers as too stringent.

Last December, Argentina defaulted on much of its $141-billion foreign debt. Now, it is close to defaulting again. The country must repay $805 million in loans owed to the World Bank and due this Thursday. If Mr. Lavagna can't come to terms on an IMF aid package before then, Argentina might not make the payment.

But President Duhalde is not making any predictions.

He said he cannot pick a date, but added, "I know we're at the last stage of negotiations, and it's going to conclude with success."

When he assumed office last December, Mr. Duhalde said, the country was "in intensive care". Now, he says the "worst of the crisis has passed, but Argentina still feels a sickness. There are still many problems to be overcome."