NEW: Barack Obama, Angela Merkel discuss European economy
The European Union president says Europe didn't come to be lectured
Obama expresses optimism over the Greek election results
Concrete agreements out of the G-20 Summit are unlikely
U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday welcomed the results of the Greek election as he prepared to join other world leaders at a summit aimed at boosting a sluggish global economic recovery.
Officially, the G-20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, will largely focus on one of the primary causes of the recovery’s lethargy – the threat of a European currency collapse that would roil the already fragile economies of most of the 17 countries that use the euro.
“The world is concerned about the slowing of growth that has taken place,” Obama said Monday before the start of the summit, following one-on-one-talks with host President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. “A lot of attention has been centered on Europe. Now is the time, as we’ve discussed, to make sure that all of us join to do what’s necessary to stabilize the world financial system, to avoid protectionism, to ensure that we are working hand-in-hand to both grow the economy and create jobs while taking a responsible approach long term and medium term towards our fiscal structures.”
However, the summit was not expected to produce concrete commitments, and European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso made clear Monday that European nations were not there to be lectured on how to proceed.
“This crisis was not originated in Europe. … This crisis was originated in North America,” Barroso said. “And many of our financial sectors were contaminated by – how can I put it – unorthodox practice from some sectors of the financial market. But we are not putting the blame on our partners. What we are saying is let’s work together when we have a global problem like the one we have today. “
He called for the G-20 leaders to back steps the European Union is taking, such as possible further bailouts of struggling economies such as Greece and Spain.
“Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy or in terms of how to handle the economy because the European Union is a model that we may be very proud of,” Barroso said. “We are not complacent about the difficulties. We are extremely open. I wish that all our partners were so open about their own difficulties.”
As usual for any summit, Obama also has bilateral meetings with other leaders, including his first face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Putin recently returned to the post after serving as prime minister.
Speaking to reporters after almost two hours of talks, Obama said he and the Russian leader discussed the conflict in Syria and “agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war.”
According to Obama, he and Putin “pledged to work with other international actors including the United Nations” and its special envoy, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution on Syria pushed by the United States and other allies, and Moscow is accused of providing military aid to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The Obama administration says al-Assad’s days are numbered and a transition should be worked out to allow the Syrian people to choose their leaders.
Before the summit, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that the United States continues to work to get Russia to agree with its position that al-Assad must relinquish power.
Putin said the two leaders were “able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues,” but provided no details.
Speaking first, Putin thanked the United States for helping it join the World Trade Organization in December.
“I’m confident this will help to further develop the economic relations between our two countries, to promote the creation of jobs in both countries,” he said.
Obama said he would work with Congress to strengthen Russia’s trade status with the United States, adding that the two nations will disagree on some issues and must “find constructive ways to manage through any bilateral tensions.”
Earlier, Obama and Calderon of Mexico held talks that included the announcement that Mexico would join the United States and eight other countries in negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership, an economic union to boost trade.
In addition to the United States, the current countries of the partnership are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
A main topic of the summit will be Sunday’s elections in debt-ridden Greece, where the center-right New Democracy party won the most votes and was asked to try to form a coalition government.
The vote was widely seen as a Greek referendum on staying in the euro, and the narrow victory for New Democracy over Syriza – a leftist party that opposes conditions that accompany an international bailout for the country – brought initial ease to world markets roiled by the prospect of a possible European currency collapse.
After his talks Monday with Calderon, Obama expressed optimism that the new Greek government would remain committed to a solution that would keep the country in the European monetary union.
“I think the election in Greece yesterday indicates a positive prospect for not only them forming a government, but also them working constructively with their international partners in order that they can continue on the path of reform, and do so in a way that also offers the prospects for the Greek people to succeed and prosper,” Obama told reporters.
A rocky election in Greece that would result in its departure from the eurozone was one of the greatest fears coming into the summit, and while that fear appears to have been averted for now, the United States still expects European leaders to lay out a plan for dealing with the effects of the distressed Greek economy.
“We expect to hear more of this in Los Cabos, showing that they are fundamentally committed to evolving the euro area in a way that makes the monetary union much stronger by virtue of having a more banking union, more fiscal union, more political union,” Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard told reporters in a briefing just days before the start of the summit.
Mike Froman, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economics, told the advance briefing that “this isn’t a meeting where we expect Europeans to make decisions about Europe.”
Obama also had a “constructive” 45-minute meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, largely about economic issues, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“The president was encouraged by what he heard regarding ongoing discussions in Europe about the paths they are pursuing to address the crisis,” Carney said. “The two leaders agreed to work closely together, including at this G-20, to build support for what needs to be done in Europe and the world to stabilize the situation and support growth and jobs.”
Obama is also scheduled to meet Tuesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The leaders are expected to discuss China’s role in ongoing talks with Iran over its nuclear program, as well as China’s role in spurring growth.
The members of the G-20 are the United States, the European Union, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, China, Canada, Argentina, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Australia.
CNN’s Tom Cohen contributed to this report.