At the White House on Monday, President Barack Obama met with European Union leaders, focusing on the European debt crisis and efforts by governments to preserve the eurozone amid recession worries. Mr. Obama called a solution to European fiscal problems "of huge importance" to the United States.
President Obama's message for a troubled Europe has been consistent, voicing confidence that leaders on the continent have the capacity to resolve their debt crisis, but urging them to find the political will for an effective solution.
He repeated those themes in his two hours of talks and a working lunch with three officials - European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.
In his statement to reporters, Mr. Obama again emphasized the connection between European problems and the United States.
"This is of huge importance to our own economy. If Europe is contracting or Europe is having difficulties then it is much more difficult for us to create good jobs here at home because we send so many of our products and services to Europe, it is such an important trading partner for us. So we have got an important stake in their success and we will continue to work in a constructive way to try to resolve this issue in the near future," he said.
The annual summit came amid new worries about Europe falling into recession, as governments implement an agreement reached in October, and members such as Italy, Greece, and Spain work to solve their fiscal crises.
It also came amid ongoing concerns about problems in Europe, a major U.S trading partner, potentially kicking the U.S. economy back into a full recession.
In his remarks, Van Rompuy said European governments have taken decisions that he called "unthinkable" a year ago, but know they must do more and pointed to a plan he will present next month. "We are aiming for binding rules to ensure strong fiscal and economic discipline in our countries to go hand in hand with fiscal and economic integration, not only discipline but also integration in the Euro area as whole," he said.
Barroso said European leaders are determined to deal effectively with the crisis, but added that "some decisions take time." "I want to reassure President Obama and also I want to reassure the Americans. Europe is going through rough times, yes, but we are determined to overcome the current difficulties," he said.
In an interview with VOA, Jonathan Story, a professor of International Political Economy at France's INSEAD business school, said the U.S. is limited in what it can do to move Europe forward. "The U.S. has an interest in its resolution that is for sure because Europe is a very big market for U.S. businesses who are the main investor in Europe and European investors are the main investors in the United States, so the two economies are very intertwined but there is actually very little the U.S. can do because the resolution of the problem is in European hands," he said.
Also attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. - EU talks also covered the Arab Spring, the situation in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, and political and human rights issues in Ukraine and Belarus.
Noting the first post-Mubarak election in Egypt, and events in Tunisia and Libya, a joint statement said considerable challenges lie ahead but the U.S. and EU are committed to supporting democratic transitions and economic growth in the region.
It called on the Assad government in Syria to end violence immediately, permit the immediate entry of human rights observers and international journalists, and allow for a peaceful and democratic transition.
The U.S. and EU shared "deep concern" about "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program, saying they are committed to working toward a diplomatic solution but will consider additional measures given Iran's continued failure to abide by its international obligations.
President Obama and EU officials also looked ahead to next week's conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, with Mr. Obama saying both sides have a "shared stake" in continued progress in Afghanistan.