WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama told top European officials Monday they must act now, with decisive force, to fix the debt crisis threatening to consume the eurozone and damage the fragile US recovery.
Obama said that the United States would do its part to help resolve the situation, but did not specify any action over and above its current intense diplomatic engagement and financing for the International Monetary Fund.
"This is of huge importance to our own economy," Obama said, after meeting European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
"I communicated to them that the United States stands ready to do our part to help them resolve this issue," he said, adding that it would be tougher for his administration to create jobs at home if European markets were contracting.
Obama was diplomatic in public with his guests, but there were signs of a more robust White House attitude inside the closed-door talks.
"The president has made clear repeatedly and he did so today, that he would like to see bolder, quicker, more decisive action by European leaders," said William Kennard, US ambassador to the European Union.
"We have gotten into detail in private conversation about what that might entail," he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US government wanted Europe to take firm action to ease its debt crisis, which some analysts say could even put the survival of the euro in doubt.
"This is something they need to solve and they have the capacity to solve," Carney said.
"Our position is, and has been, that it's critical for Europe to move with force and decisiveness now, particularly with new governments coming into place in Italy, Greece and Spain."
The issue was also at the top of the agenda at the G20 summit in Cannes, France earlier this month.
The president has held frequent calls with European leaders, repeatedly urged steps to build a eurozone firewall and the United States is the largest shareholder in the International Monetary Fund, which organizes bailouts.
Van Rompuy said after meeting Obama that the European Union was going through a "difficult period" but defended what he said had been hitherto "unthinkable" measures to try to restore growth.
"But we have to do more," he said.
The White House talks went ahead amid new fears for the European economy and the potential for wider contagion.
A study by Fitch ratings agency published last week warned that exposure of the US financial sector to European countries and banks was "sizable."
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warned that policymakers were failing to see the urgency of acting to tackle risks to the global economy, and rapped the United States as well as Europe.
And Moody's Investors Service warned that all European Union sovereign debt ratings, not just those of teetering nations like Italy, Greece and Portugal, were at risk, pointing to a widening of the crisis.
Despite its exposure to Europe and its status as the world's top economic power, the United States has limited capacity to influence the eurozone crisis, and has been cajoling top European leaders to act decisively.
Washington's moral standing on the issue has also been called into question by its failure to make its own tough political decisions needed to fix its bulging deficit, with little movement likely ahead of a 2012 election year.
A joint statement issued by the two sides after Monday's summit made clear that "the EU looks forward to US action on medium term fiscal consolidation."
The summit was never expected to yield big breakthroughs, given the absence of key players like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Reports said Monday that key eurozone leaders were considering a push for strict new budget rules for member states to fix the crisis, rather than recommending changes to EU treaties, which could take years.
Though the eurozone is overshadowing trans-Atlantic diplomacy, Obama said that on most areas there was great agreement.
The two sides called in a statement for an end to violence against anti-government protesters in Syria, expressed "deep concern" about Iran's nuclear program and noted an "historic" opportunity for progress following the Arab Spring.
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