(Updates prices, adds quote, changes byline, changes dateline from LONDON)
* Yen rises after two days of losses
* Focus on Greece and Ukraine in absence of economic data
By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss
NEW YORK, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The yen firmed against the dollar and euro on Monday as investors sought safety in the Japanese currency on worries about the conflict in Ukraine and Greece’s future in the eurozone.
The yen rose after two straight days of losses against the dollar and so far this year has gained 0.7 percent. It took a beating on Friday after a strong U.S. jobs report rekindled optimism about a rate by the Federal Reserve this year.
In his first major speech to Greece’s parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday laid out plans to dismantle the “cruel” austerity program imposed on it by international lenders. He ruled out any extension of the country’s bailout, setting himself on a collision course with his European partners.
“If Greece should eventually leave the euro, it could mean much uncertainty and a period of turmoil for markets,” said Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst of Western Union Business Solutions in Washington.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, will meet U.S. President Barack Obama later in the day to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, where nine troops and seven civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours alone.
In midmorning New York trading, the dollar was down 0.3 percent at 118.74 yen. The Japanese currency, seen as a safe haven at times of heightened investor anxiety, had fallen 1.4 percent on Friday as the greenback rallied on robust U.S. jobs data.
The euro, on the other hand slipped 0.1 percent to 134.56 yen. The yen had also gotten a boost from strong Japanese consumer sentiment data and by comments from a Bank of Japan policymaker, who said the country would not slip back into deflation.
Against the dollar, however, the euro was up 0.1 percent at $1.1326.
“The overall picture (for the euro) is still very negative, and the position between Greece and the EU doesn’t seem to have improved ... so any rebounds are going to provide a good selling opportunity,” said Ian Stannard, Morgan Stanley’s head of European FX strategy.
Eurozone finance ministers meet on Wednesday at the Eurogroup gathering, where the Greek finance minister has said he will present a comprehensive proposal. The European Council meeting takes place the following day. (Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Additional reporting by Jemima Kelly in London)