By Rodrigo Campos and Cassandra Garrison
NEW YORK/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An IMF technical team will travel to Buenos Aires in February, an important step in critical debt negotiations, after the fund held positive talks with Argentine Economy Minister Martin Guzman in New York on Tuesday.
The International Monetary Fund, which extended a $57 billion (43.4 billion pounds) credit facility to the indebted South American nation in 2018 and is key its hopes of avoiding default, called the New York meeting "very productive" in a statement.
Argentina is battling to restructure around $100 billion in sovereign debt after crashes in the peso currency, steep inflation and an anemic economy left the major grains exporter unable to service its public debts.
"Both parties reiterated their readiness to continue their discussions in the coming weeks," the IMF said, adding that its Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva would meet Guzman on the sidelines of a seminar organised by the Vatican on Feb. 5.
"In addition, an IMF technical mission is expected to travel to Buenos Aires in February to continue to exchange views on macroeconomic plans and debt sustainability," it said.
Guzman, in comments to journalists after Tuesday's meeting, called it "very productive" and said the focus had been on debt sustainability and Argentina's economic situation.
"We are taking steps. It is part of a process to solve the crisis in a joined-up way," Guzman said.
Guzman said he met with a U.S. Treasury official on Monday and was planning to meet with Georgieva in Italy next week. The two are listed as speakers at a Feb. 5 Vatican conference by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
In New York, Guzman met with Luis Cubeddu, head of the IMF mission in Argentina, and Julie Kozack, the IMF deputy director for the Western Hemisphere.
Cubeddu, speaking to reporters as he left the New York meeting, said it was "extremely positive" and had lasted more than an hour.
The government of Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, a center-left Peronist who took office just last month, has set a March 31 deadline for the conclusion of debt talks with creditors, including the IMF.
Argentine over-the-counter bonds <RPLATC>, which have been buffeted by uncertainties over the debt situation, closed 0.7% higher on Tuesday on average, as country risk <11EMJ> fell 26 basis points to 2,123, traders said.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos in New York; additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Giles Elgood and Tom Brown)