By The Associated Press
CAMP DAVID, Md. (AP) — The United States and other members of the Group of Eight industrial nations agree that Europe’s financial crisis must be addressed with a mix of growth and austerity measures, President Barack Obama said Saturday as leaders gathered for a shirt-sleeve discussion that also will cover world concerns about ups and downs in oil prices.
“All of us are absolutely committed to making sure that growth and stability and fiscal consolidation are part of an overall package,” Obama said as he and other leaders gathered in a rustic cabin at this wooded presidential retreat.
Obama was referring to the debt crises in Greece and Spain, primarily, although he was not specific in brief remarks to reporters.
Leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, Britain, Russia, and Japan are trying to figure out how to tame Europe’s debt crisis while also increasing the demand for goods and spurring job growth.
Obama’s argument for additional stimulus measures alongside belt-tightening is primarily aimed at Germany, the strongest member of the union that uses the common Euro currency, although Obama did not say so. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was seated a few places away from Obama at a small round table.
Leaders of the world’s economic powers say Germany should balance its push for European fiscal austerity with doses of stimulus spending to avoid a financial calamity with global repercussions.
In talks Saturday, the leaders were looking to build consensus even though a decisive plan of action seemed out of reach for now.
“We’ll also be talking about uncertainty in the energy markets and how to resolve some of those issues,” Obama said at the start of discussions on the global economy.
Obama chose the secluded Camp David setting in part to give leaders a chance for a freewheeling discussion out of sight of most media and far from the raucous protests that have accompanied previous meetings of the G-8.
The G-8 session sets the stage for a far more consequential European summit in Brussels next week where the countries that share the euro as their currency hope to come together on specific steps to fight rising debt while spurring a recovery.
The Camp David gathering opened with a Friday evening discussion focused on global trouble spots Iran and Syria. Obama said the session also touched on North Korea’s aggression and hopeful signs of democratic change in Myanmar.
“We are unified on our approach to Iran,” and hopeful of progress ahead of a diplomatic meeting with Iran next week, Obama said Saturday.
Iran may have a peaceful nuclear energy program but misuse of that program for a nuclear weapon is unacceptable, Obama said. Ever-tighter economic sanctions cannot be loosened while the world encourages Iran to rein in its program, Obama said.
“All of us are firmly committed to continuing with the approach of sanctions and pressure in combination with diplomatic discussions,” Obama said. “And our hope is that we can resolve this issue in a peaceful fashion that respects Iran’s sovereignty and its rights in the international community, but also recognizes its responsibilities.”
On Syria, Obama said the group supports a United Nations cease-fire plan that has yet to be honored in full. He said a statement to be issued at the close of the G-8 summit will reflect that support for the plan brokered by envoy Kofi Annan, but also say that the plan has not taken hold fast enough.
Most of the leaders are part of overlapping international coalitions formed to address the Iranian nuclear problem and the newer crisis in Syria, where an estimated 9,000 people have died in more than a year of violence that arose from the pro-democracy Arab uprisings.
Faced with implacable Russian opposition to significant new United Nations punishments on the Syrian regime, U.S. officials are trying to get consensus among other allies about ways to promote the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ouster.
“We all believe that a peaceful resolution and political transition in Syria is preferable,” Obama said Saturday.
A senior U.S. official said one goal of the closed-door discussions at Camp David was to impress on Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that other nations that share Russia’s usual role at the forefront of international diplomacy are seeking ways to address the Syria debacle without Russian help.
Later Saturday the leaders were returning to foreign affairs topics with discussion of Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Obama established the tone for the G-8 on Friday after meeting with just-elected French President Francois Hollande, when he said the aim of the summit was to promote both fiscal consolidation and a “strong growth agenda.”
The two leaders, Obama said “agree that this is an issue of extraordinary importance not only to the people of Europe but also to the world economy.”
In a hint of the pressures facing the leaders, when Obama greeted Merkel and asked her how she was doing, the German leader only shrugged.
“Well, you have a few things on your mind,” Obama said.
A central economic topic, though hardly the only one confronting Europe, is the fate of Greece. That country is facing the most acute financial crisis of the eurozone and is set to hold elections June 17 to end political deadlock. At issue is whether Greece abandons the euro to escape austerity measures.
Hollande, after meeting with Obama at the White House, said, “We share the same views, the fact that Greece must stay in the eurozone and that all of us must do what we can to that effect.”
For Obama, Europe’s fate is critical to his own political survival. An economic recession that spreads to the U.S. could damage an already slow recovery and boost the argument by his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, that the United States economy needs new leadership.
There is a get-acquainted aspect to the session as well.
The Camp David gathering, the largest collection of foreign leaders ever at the presidential retreat, is the first G-8 meeting for Hollande, for Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. In what has been widely viewed as a snub, Russian President Vladimir Putin is skipping the G-8. He sent Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place.