President Obama joked that the G-20 summit in Cannes, France, offered a crash course in European politics, with impromptu bargaining sessions that stretched late into the evening.
Yet the summit produced no big breakthroughs, only vague promises to prevent the political and economic turmoil in Greece from spreading.
After huddling with leaders from throughout the eurozone, Obama reiterated his belief that the countries on the continent can solve their own debt problems.
"They're going to have a strong partner in us," the president said. "But European leaders understand that ultimately what the markets are looking for is a strong signal from Europe that they're standing behind the euro."
The signals coming out of the G-20 meeting were strong, but not terribly specific. Ideas were floated for the International Monetary Fund to make more money available to Europe. The IMF was also invited to monitor and report publicly on Italy's efforts to repair its finances. Italy's economy is much bigger than that of Greece, and a debt crisis there would pose a more serious global problem.
That's why Obama says it's so important for Europe to finalize its plans for a financial firewall to protect countries like Italy. The president acknowledged there's no "overnight solution," but said leaders had "moved the ball forward" during their G-20 summit.
"Having heard from our European partners over the past two days, I am confident that Europe has the capacity to meet this challenge," the president said. "I know it isn't easy. But it's absolutely critical, and what the world looks for in moments such as this is action."
U.S. Economy Still Struggling
Doubts about the European economy haven't helped the U.S., as indicated by Friday's lackluster employment report, which showed that just 80,000 American jobs were created last month. Obama says the U.S. economic recovery is still fragile and doesn't need any more bad news from the other side of the Atlantic.
"If Europe isn't growing, it's harder for us to do what we need to do for the American people: creating jobs, lifting up the middle class, and putting our fiscal house in order," he said. "And that's why I've made it clear that the United States will continue to do our part to support our European partners as they work to resolve this crisis."
The visit to France also gave the president an opportunity to celebrate the successful NATO campaign in Libya, which formally ended this week.
Obama joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy, along with French and American service members, in a rainy ceremony along the Mediterranean coastline. Sarkozy hailed the Franco-American alliance that stretches back more than 200 years, from the Battle of Yorktown to Normandy.
"France stood by the United States of America when it achieved independence, and the United States stood beside France when we were threatened," Sarkozy said.
Today, these superpowers of the 18th and 20th centuries find it useful to work with additional partners. Obama noted that NATO members joined with military forces from Arab countries to provide support for the Libyan operation.
"That showed more nations bearing the burdens and costs of peace and security," he said. "And that's how our alliance must work in the 21st century."
Obama praised the speed with which NATO responded when the people of Libya were threatened, mobilizing military strikes in a matter of a day. When it comes to attacking Europe's debt problems, it's apparently going to take longer to pull the trigger.
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