Obama: Europe needs "absolute commitment" on debt crisis

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 8, 2012 10:43pm EST

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as he hosts the second White House Science Fair celebrating the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country in Washington February 7, 2012.   REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as he hosts the second White House Science Fair celebrating the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country in Washington February 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday Europe must not flinch as its leaders confront a raging debt crisis that he acknowledged could do real harm to the U.S. economic recovery.

In an interview with newspaper La Stampa on the eve of a White House meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Obama said the United States would "do our part" to help, but stressed that the burden lay mostly with Europe.

"What is necessary now is for all European governments to show their absolute commitment to the future of economic integration in Europe," Obama said in a text of the interview published on the Italian newspaper's website.

"If Europe puts in place a large enough firewall, it significantly reduces the probability that it will need to be used," he said, while praising Italy's "impressive steps" to modernize its economy and cut national debt.

Obama meets with Monti at 2:45 p.m. EST on Thursday and will discuss Italy's steps to restore market confidence and boost growth, "as well as the prospect of an expansion of Europe's financial firewall," the White House said.

In Greece, facing a potentially devastating sovereign debt default, political leaders failed on Wednesday to sign off on a tough reform and austerity package needed to secure a vital 130 billion euro bailout, but talks were set to continue.

The United States has said for months that Europe has the resources to tackle the crisis and Obama repeated that message in his interview. He did not try to play down U.S. vulnerability to a slowdown in its most important trading partner.

"The United States has an enormous stake in Europe's growth and the Euro area's success," Obama said. He also said the United States "will continue to do our part to support our European friends as they work to resolve this crisis," but gave no details on what that might mean in practice.

(Reporting By Alister Bull; editing by Todd Eastham)

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