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Obama Holds Mini-Summit With EU Leaders

U.S. and European leaders in a snippet from the family picture session after North Atlantic Council meeting in Lisbon that preceded the U.S.-EU mini-summit.
LISBON -- U.S. President Barack Obama met briefly with European Union leaders at the tail end of the NATO summit in Lisbon today amid fears that Washington is losing interest in the trans-Atlantic relationship.

The decision to meet European Council President Herman van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in the Portuguese capital came after Obama opted not to attend an EU summit meeting scheduled for May in the Spanish capital, Madrid.

The lightning talks, which lasted about 90 minutes, focused on economic cooperation, security issues, energy, and the environment, the three leaders said in a joint appearance after the talks.

They also touched on looming economic fears, as both sides appealed to world leaders to resist the temptation to devalue their currencies for quick economic gain.

Obama quipped that such talks are often anticlimactic "because we basically agree on everything." The U.S. president stressed the tight historic and cultural ties between the United States and Europe.

"America's relationship with our European allies and partners is the cornerstone of our engagement with the world, and it's a catalyst for global cooperation, whether it's creating jobs for our people, sustaining global economic recovery, protecting our citizens, preventing nuclear proliferation," Obama said. "The United States has no closer partner than Europe."

Obama also noted that trade and investment between Europe and the United States totals more than $4 trillion a year.

Likewise, van Rompuy stressed trans-Atlantic cooperation on the economy and on security issues.

"We share the same vision on the future of security. Both our societies are built on the free flow of people, goods, and information," van Rompuy said. "The networks these flows require face threats of a new kind: terrorism, market disruption, and cyber attacks. The European Union and the U.S. cooperation has added value here. And that's why we decided to develop our partnership on a wide range of security issues. This needs to be founded on our respect for fundamental rights and freedoms."

Obama and the European Union leaders called on major economies to steer clear of competing currency devaluations. In a not-so-veiled criticism of China, Obama stressed "the need for currencies that are market-driven" and called on "countries with large surpluses to boost domestic demand."

The Economies

Despite the warm words, Europe and the United States have been at odds over a series of economic issues.

European governments have been critical of the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to pump $600 billion into the American economy. Obama's approach of stimulating the economy through increased government spending contrasts sharply with that of European leaders -- particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who favor austerity measures.

EU states are also concerned about Washington using monetary easing as a way to weaken the dollar and boost U.S. exports. Many also disagree with Washington over how to tighten financial regulations to avert another global economic crisis. And some say they wish Obama had put more pressure on China over its own currency manipulations at the G-20 summit in Seoul.

In July, Barroso noted that "the trans-Atlantic relationship is not living up to its potential" adding that Washington and Brussels "should do much more together."