By JIM KUHNHENN
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ When leaders of the nation's biggest economies gathered at the presidential retreat of Camp David last year, European elections had rattled the continent with a rejection of austerity measures. President Barack Obama was himself seeking re-election. The sense of urgency was palpable as Obama made an emphatic pitch for Europe's powers to focus more on economic growth.
These days, as Obama prepares for another summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations next week, the furor has died down. Financial tensions in Europe have eased, high-debt nations have been given more time to work on their fiscal cuts, and even the language has changed from "austerity" to "growth-oriented structural reforms."
"The context of that discussion has changed a lot over the past year," said Caroline Atkinson, a senior White House international economics adviser.Still, much of the eurozone remains mired in or near recession. Obama's appeals have had mixed results in softening the demands on some of the most debt-ridden European nations to cut their spending. While the U.S. still wants Europe to temper the debt trimming and increase global demand, Obama is not expected to be as insistent with other G-8 leaders this time as they meet at a luxury hotel and golf resort beside Lough Erne in Northern Ireland's County Fermanagh lakeland. Moreover, Obama arrives at the G-8 with Syria foremost on his mind. His decision to authorize lethal aid to Syrian rebels inevitably will be front and center during the summit, complicated by the attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's most powerful backers. When Obama spoke by phone Friday with the leaders of Britain, France, Italy and Germany, they discussed Syria and the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people and ways to support a political transition to end the 2-year-old civil war, a White House statement said.