LOS CABOS, Mexico – President Barack Obama voiced confidence Tuesday in Europe’s ability to “break the fever” of its raging debt crisis as he sought to calm both global financial markets and the election-year worries of voters at home.
Obama, speaking at the close of the Group of 20 economic summit, said Europe’s leaders showed a “heightened sense of urgency” during two days of talks in this Mexican resort. The president maintained that Europe had the capacity to solve the crisis on its own, indicating the U.S., still battling its own economic woes, would not be offering any financial pledges to help its international partners.
“Even if they cannot achieve all of it in one fell swoop, I think if people have a sense of where they are going that can provide confidence and break the fever,” Obama said in a news conference that brought to a close his last foreign trip before the November election.
Obama waded deep into the summit discussions on Europe’s debt crisis, which could have repercussions both for a U.S. economy still struggling to recover from a recession and Obama’s own re-election prospects. He acknowledged that “all of this affects the United States” but that his administration does not have control over how quickly the Europeans fix the problems.
“All of these issues, economic issues, will potentially have some impact on the election,” Obama said.
Mindful of his audience of voters in the U.S., Obama said: “The best thing the United States can do is to create jobs and growth in the short term even as we continue to put our fiscal house in order over the long term.
While the European crisis consumed much of the summit, Obama broke away from the main meetings to tackle other pressing global issues, most notably the violence in Syria. Obama described his meetings with the leaders of Russia and China, two countries that have stymied U.S. efforts to take action against Syria at the United Nations, as productive but said they were “not aligned” with the U.S.
“I don’t think it would be fair to say that the Russian and the Chinese are signed on at this point,” Obama said. “But I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war.”
More than 14,000 people have been killed in months of clashes between rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to Syrian opposition groups. While the U.S. and other nations have long called for Assad to leave power, Russia has refrained from doing so.
“No one has the right to decide for other people who should be in power and who should step aside,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his own post G-20 news conference.
Election-year politics followed Obama abroad. Asked about criticism of his economic proposals from an adviser to his Republican rival Mitt Romney, Obama gave a prickly response.
“We have one president at a time and one administration at a time,” he said. “And I think traditionally the notion has been that America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.”
Despite Obama’s endorsement of European efforts, he said the responsibility for creating jobs back in the U.S. lay with his administration and congressional lawmakers, not Europe. He urged Congress to focus on steps they could take to boost job creation and economic growth, pitching legislation he proposed months ago that has little chance of garnering Republican support in an election year.
“I’ve consistently believed that if we take the right policy steps, if we’re doing the right thing, then the politics will follow and my mind hasn’t changed on that,” Obama said.
The European stew of high debt, high borrowing rates and high unemployment poses huge spillover risks to the American economy and Obama’s political future.
The U.S. economy is in a tentative recovery amid a slump in hiring and indications that the housing market is healing. Those mixed signals have muddled Obama’s re-election prospects as Romney mounts a campaign singularly focused on the state of the U.S. economy.
Underscoring the stakes, Obama held a lengthy private meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country plays a pivotal role in addressing the crisis. Obama also held a joint meeting Tuesday with leaders from Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the European Union.
European leaders are expected to outline the details of their next steps to address the continent’s crisis during a summit in Brussels next week.
Despite the words of unity during the Mexico meetings, European leaders showed signs that they have heard enough about their troubles, particularly from Americans. Memories linger of the 2008 financial crash that was borne in the United States and destroyed jobs and wealth.
“The eurozone has a serious problem, but it is certainly not the only imbalance in the world economy,” Italian Prime Minster Mario Monti said Tuesday. He said the United States’ own financial problems were mentioned in G-20 talks “by almost everybody, including President Obama.”
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso took an aggressive tone with reporters on Monday, also pointing some blame at North America and saying, “Frankly we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy.”
Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report.