Eurozone, Greece The Focus At G-20 Summit

The G-20 economic conference opened Monday in Los Cabos, Mexico. Much of the focus is on the economic woes in the Eurozone, but President Obama took time to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was the first time the two men had met since Putin returned to that job and comes at a tense time between the two nations. Scott Horsley talks to Robert Siegel.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The elections in Greece provided a momentary respite for European leaders. Still, there are big unresolved issues surrounding the Eurozone. And that's a focus for leaders of the G-20, the grouping of the world's biggest economies. They're meeting in Mexico this week. Also, Syria is a subject of concern.

Today, President Obama had his first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin, since Putin once again became president of Russia. The two have been at odds over international action in Syria. Their meeting was long and it was described as cordial, if not exactly warm.

NPR's Scott Horsley is at the G-20 meeting in Baja, California, and he joins us now. And, Scott, first, was there a collective sigh of relief over the Greek election result?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Robert, if the G-20 leaders aren't sighing, this at least gives them a chance to catch their breath. President Obama described the election results as something that create a positive prospect that now Greece can form a government, and then work with the other countries in Europe on a plan to both address the long-term debts in Greece, but in a way that's not so draconian the Greek people can't succeed and prosper.

That may be the president's hint that Europe needs to relax the terms of the Greek austerity agreement. But in a bigger sense, whatever happened in Greece, the real issue facing Europe is how to stabilize its banking system, how to keep interest rates from spiraling upwards in places like Spain, and most importantly how to foster more economic growth.

SIEGEL: Well, that is a very big to-do list for the European leaders. Is any of that going to actually get done at this meeting in Mexico?

HORSLEY: Well, it is a big to-do list. It's one that Europe has been struggling with for a long time. And no one is really looking for a big breakthrough at this meeting in Mexico. Only a few of the big European players are even represented in the G-20. So, progress on the European front is maybe more likely to come at a Brussels summit for the European later this month.

At the same time, the G-20 members are talking about what can be done to boost demand, which has been drag on growth, not only in Europe but we're now seeing a slowdown in demand in China, slowdown of growth in Brazil and of course we've seen a slowdown in growth at home, in the United States.

SIEGEL: As you mentioned the slowdowns in China and elsewhere, Europe has been the biggest drag on the world economy, but not the only one. What are those other economic concerns?

HORSLEY: Well, that's right. And, for example, at home, the slowdown in economic growth has translated into fewer jobs being added in each of the last few months. It is something that the G-20 members say they're committed to address. And that may be one of the biggest things that comes out of this meeting is a tilt a little bit back towards the stimulus part of the spectrum and away from the austerity part of the spectrum.

One of the things Europe has been looking at in that direction is to spend more money on public works projects. Of course that's an idea that President Obama has floated in the U.S. but has found little traction in Congress.

SIEGEL: Now, Scott, as I mentioned a moment ago, Mr. Obama met today with Vladimir Putin. Do we know what they discussed or how the discussion went?

HORSLEY: Well, they talked about a lot of things. But Syria was the thing that consumed the most time in the two men's meeting. And everyone was very curious to see what would this meeting be like, what kind of rapport would these two leaders have. The Russians have been reluctant to crackdown on their ally in Syria. And some people thought the body language in the two men's photo-op today was a little stiff.

Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes says not so. The meeting was a good one.

BEN RHODES: And, look, it went for two hours. It went far longer than was scheduled. That's because they felt like they were making progress and they felt like it was worth the discussions and it was worth having, again, you know, full and candid exchange of views.

HORSLEY: Putin himself said the two men found some common ground, but we heard no specifics about what Russia is prepared to do to push the Syrian leader out of power.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley speaking with us from the G-20 meeting in Baja, California.

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