WASHINGTON -- Argentina's economy minister, Domingo Cavallo, played down a dispute over the mix of bonds its foreign creditor banks will take in a $31 billion debt deal.

Banks have been opting for a mix of 80% fixed-rate par bonds and 20% floating-rate discount bonds, whereas the U.S. Treasury is pressing them to accept a 50-50 mix.

Argentina initially sided with the United States. But Mr. Cavallo, in Washington for the International Monetary Fund/World Bank meeting, told reporters it makes no real difference to his country.

The dispute is one of the reasons the banks, which were hoping to sign the pact last week, have not been able to do so, though there is consensus that it should go through eventually.

"There is no perception that it won't be signed," Mr. Cavallo said. Par bonds, because they are exchanged at full face value, require more collateral in the form of U.S. Treasury zero-coupon bonds than do discount bonds, which are at 65% of face value.

Bankers say par bonds are more attractive, however, because of low international interest rates that can be locked in with a fixed-rate instrument.

Mr. Cavallo said the dispute did not affect Argentina. "The amount we will have to pay each year to service our debt is virtually the same, whichever the mix of bonds is."

Multilaterals a Factor

Mr. Cavallo said that nevertheless, there was yet another class of player in the bond game: the multilateral institutions, part of whose loans will be used as collateral to Argentina's debt.

He said the lending agencies had their own rules on the amount of resources for enhancement that can be assigned to either par or discount bonds.

"The banks' selection does not go along with the multilateral bodies' regulations," he said.

Mr. Cavallo and his aides are trying to help all sides overcome their differences, but there is no real urgency, he said. Issue was to be discussed Sunday in a meeting between Mr. Cavallo and U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady.

But he dismissed bankers' speculation that he would take advantage of this week's IMF-World Bank meeting to try to work out something with all parties involved.

"This was not in our plans, and it is not crucial that we do it," he said, reiterating previous assertions that his country will be satisfied with having the Brady-style debt deal closed by year's end.

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