Obama, Hollande meet before G8

May 18, 2012 at 2:50 PM
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CAMP DAVID, Md., May 18 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande met Friday before the Group of Eight summit, sharing views on Iran and cheeseburgers.

The White House meeting came just days after Hollande was sworn in after trouncing Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been instrumental in negotiating agreements to keep Greece out of default and dragging the rest of the eurozone down with it.

After the meeting, Hollande told reporters through an interpreter he and Obama had shared their views on Iran, which has been under pressure to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and called it a place to "start a conversation." He also said France would meet its commitments regarding Syria and Arab Spring countries.

Hollande said economic growth must be a "priority," adding Greece must remain in the eurozone. He urged Greeks to elect a more reasonable government in next month's rerun of parliamentary elections made necessary when political leaders failed to form a coalition government this week.

On Afghanistan, Hollande said he reminded Obama: "I made a promise to the French people to the effect that our combat troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012. That being said, we will continue to support Afghanistan, in a different way. Our support will take a different format, and all of that will be in good understanding with our allies."

Hollande pledged to cooperate with the United States as a friend but reminded Obama, "France is an independent country and cares about its independence."

Obama joked that since Hollande had studied fast-food, the U.S. president was looking forward to the French leader's views on cheeseburgers. Hollande said he would "say nothing against cheeseburgers," to which Obama countered, they "go very well with French fries."

At the G8 gathering, Obama was expected to contrast the stimulus-aided U.S. recovery to Europe's austerity-fed malaise, an aide said.

"The president has long made clear ... that he believes that an approach that takes into account the need for further growth and job creation -- a balanced approach that includes not just austerity but growth and job creation -- is the right approach," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

"When we discuss this with our European allies, we can point to some of our own experiences," he said.

"The last several years of positive GDP growth here in the United States -- the last 26 months of positive private-sector job creation -- point to the efficacy of taking measures that help stimulate growth and create jobs," Carney said.

"That's the approach the president has taken. That's, I think, the view that he'll take into his meetings this weekend," Carney said.

The G8 meeting at Camp David, Md. -- to be followed by a NATO summit in Chicago Sunday and Monday -- was scheduled to cover an array of topics, including food security in Africa, but given the escalating crises in Greece, Spain, Italy and other teetering economies, the future of the eurozone was widely expected to dominate the talks, aides said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was expected to join other leaders in pressing German Chancellor Angela Merkel to authorize German financial intervention to shore up weak eurozone economies, the British newspaper The Independent reported Friday.

Cameron said Thursday hopes of saving the eurozone lay in large part with Germany, with its strong economy, because, he said, successful economies have a responsibility to shore up weaker ones.

Vladimir Putin, in his new role as Russian president, canceled his trip, instead sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

This is the first time in the 38 G8 summits that the leader of a core member nation willingly chose not to attend.

Representatives of the European Union, United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency, World Bank and World Trade Organization and other organizations were invited to observe and participate in some activities, as were representatives of five of large emerging economies -- Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

The leaders of Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Benin were invited for a discussion about food security, the White House said Thursday. Beninese President Yayi Boni is chairman of the African Union.

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