Obama, Hollande to discuss crisis


US president Barack Obama will seek to cement a bond with France's new leader at the White House today before heading to Camp David for a G8 summit where he is set to press Europe to do more to fix the region's deepening economic crisis.

Francois Hollande, sworn in this week as French president, has already made waves by challenging Europe's focus on austerity and by saying he will pull French troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.

Mr Obama may use their introductory meeting in the Oval Office to encourage the 57-year-old Socialist to rethink his Afghanistan plans that put France on an earlier exit timetable than other Nato allies.

But the two leaders, who have both expressed support for pro-growth policies in Europe, are expected to form a common front on the euro zone crisis that could dominate this weekend's Group of Eight talks.

Mr Obama's administration spent heavily to tackle the 2007-2009 US recession, and Mr Hollande is seeking to take the edge off austerity with more job-creating infrastructure investments.

The G8 summit comes as Greeks are pulling cash from banks amid growing fears that it might crash out of the single currency euro zone, and financial markets have turned fearful about the prospects of a full-blown crisis in Europe.

Mr Obama and other US officials have urged European leaders repeatedly to do more to stimulate growth in the region, fearing contagion from the euro crisis could hurt the US economy and threaten Mr Obama's chances of re-election on November 6th.

That could put pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has stressed the need for fiscal discipline to get the euro zone finances back on track even as voters have toppled belt-tightening governments.

One of Obama's closest aides, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, said the United States welcomed the evolving debate in Europe about the "imperative for jobs and growth," but he said the president's intention was not to drive a wedge between Germany and France.

"I don't think that the nature of these conversations are going to be anything like taking one side or the other," he told reporters last night.

"The president looks forward to leading a discussion among the leaders about the imperative of having a comprehensive approach to manage the crisis and get on a sustainable path towards recovery in Europe."