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Last year's G-20 summit was focused on Europe's financial problems, and it's going to be the same way this year. President Obama is meeting other world leaders for the summit in Mexico today. Now, after yesterday's election in Greece, the Group of 20 is looking for some assurances that the debt crisis can be controlled. From Los Cabos, Mexico, NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The Pacific Ocean beckons from this resort at the southern tip of Baja, California. But for leaders of the G-20 countries meeting here, the focus is across the Atlantic. Europe's economic woes are the number-one threat to the global economy right now. Deputy National Security Advisor Mike Froman says it's a threat the United States cannot afford to ignore.
MIKE FROMAN: Europe is our largest trading partner and a key part of the global financial system. And therefore, it's very important to the United States and the rest of the world as they work through their issues.
HORSLEY: Yesterday's Greek election is considered a vote in favor of the eurozone, but there are still plenty of challenges facing the monetary union, which is linked by a common currency, but divided by politics and very different economic fortunes. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the Council on Foreign Relations last week European leaders have a strong incentive to keep the eurozone from falling apart.
SECRETARY TIMOTHY GEITHNER: They've decided it is in their interest to hold it together. And what they say to us privately is they will do whatever is necessary to hold it together.
HORSLEY: That could include some continent-wide banking supervision and bank insurance, along with steps to prevent government interest rates from soaring. U.S. officials have been consulting closely with the Europeans, but White House advisor Froman says it's ultimately Europe's problem to solve.
FROMAN: This is not an issue of U.S. leverage. It's Europe doing what's in Europe's interests and what's in the interest of the rest of the global economy.
HORSLEY: Solutions won't come quickly, nor are they likely to come at this G-20 summit. Only a handful of eurozone countries are represented here. For them, the more important meeting may be a European summit later this month. Still, the rest of the world is looking for some signal at the G-20 that Europe is on track towards a solution. Froman says that would be part of a larger message aimed at promoting economic growth.
FROMAN: I think a unified message about the importance of growth, and most importantly what Europe can do, is our hope for an outcome.
HORSLEY: When the global economic crisis hit four years ago, the G-20 countries acted in concert to bolster growth. Since then, many countries have downshifted into austerity measures. And growth is slowing - not only in Europe, but in developing countries like China, as well as the United States.
Some governments have little choice but to cut spending. But because the U.S. is considered a safe haven for investors, the U.S. government is still able to borrow money at historically low interest rates. Geithner says that creates an opening in the U.S. to prop up growth - for instance, by investing in public works projects or hiring additional teachers.
GEITHNER: If we could do those things now, we'd be in a stronger place to withstand the uncertainty you're going to face from Europe over a protracted period of time.
HORSLEY: President Obama is also holding one-on-one meetings this week with the leaders of Mexico, China and Russia. It's his first face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin since Putin returned to the Russian presidency. Foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes says the U.S. is working cooperatively with Russia on Iran and Afghanistan, though Russia has resisted U.S. calls for more pressure on its Syrian ally, Bashar al-Assad.
BEN RHODES: President Putin clearly is somebody who can articulate where he has differences with the United States. But we can also articulate where we have differences with Russia. And I think our assessment is that being candid with one another and clear with one another is in the best interests of the relationship.
HORSLEY: The U.S. will renew its call for Assad's ouster in Syria. Rhodes says that doesn't necessarily have to mean an end to Russian influence in that country.
Scott Horsley, NPR news, at the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
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