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Obama hosts G-8 for high-stakes summit

Talks likely to focus on Europe economy

WASHINGTON – U.S. presidents have long sought relief from battles inside the Beltway and have entertained visiting heads of state at Camp David, the presidential retreat nestled in a mountain range in nearby Maryland.

Now, President Barack Obama will welcome world leaders to the secluded getaway Friday as economic chaos in Europe continues to roil global markets, prompting fears that Europe’s misfortunes could threaten the U.S. economic recovery, and possibly Obama’s chances at re-election.

Solving Europe’s woes is likely to dominate talks at the two-day G-8 summit among the leaders of the world’s richest democracies.

The White House is billing the get-together at the secluded retreat in the Catoctin Mountains as a “back to basics” gathering, saying the “intimacy” of the retreat will allow for candid talk. Analysts say the administration is hoping to hear embattled European leaders voice support for growth measures, as well as the tough austerity measures that have yet to stem the crisis.

“European leaders have signaled they intend to do whatever it takes to reinforce the foundations of their monetary union,” said Michael Froman, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. But, he added, that “serious risks remain and the markets are skeptical that the measures taken so far are sufficient to secure the recovery and remove the risk of the crisis deepening further.”

The White House has put the onus on Europe to take action and has offered advice, but analysts say the stakes for a recovery are critical for the White House.

“In the next six months, his fate for a second term will be decided and there’s a good chance Europe could highjack the electoral campaign,” said Domenico Lombardi, president of the Oxford Institute for Economic Policy in England and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. “The truth is so far, the Europeans have been only modestly effective in tackling the crisis.”

Analysts expect Obama to continue a path of quiet diplomacy, prodding European leaders to find a way out of the economic turmoil that could rattle U.S. markets. He’s expected to continue to press for growth measures, along with the austerity measures championed by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

“This is a euro-crisis summit, it will be dominated by the crisis,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “There’s a complete understanding that in a worst-case scenario, should the European crisis begin to rapidly deteriorate, the impact on the U.S. economy six months before a presidential election has profound implications for our economy and for our elections.”

The G-8 meeting will feature a number of new faces, principally France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande, who was elected amid grumbling over the austerity measures. Like Obama, Hollande champions spending on government stimulus programs to keep Europe’s economy afloat.

Analysts suggest there are signs that the Europeans, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are more open to growth measures – a move that Lombardi said could be a “good opportunity for Obama in trying to reassert the importance of growth.”

After the G-8 meeting, the leaders will travel to Chicago for a NATO summit meeting Sunday and Monday. Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be there, and NATO is expected to firm up plans for how the alliance will finish its shift from a combat role in Afghanistan to an advisory role next year.