ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Touting economic progress at the Group of 20 summit, President Barack Obama said the nation's economic powers no longer face the threat of a financial meltdown and can turn their attention to issues of tax evasion, job creation and climate change.
"For the first time in three years, instead of an urgent discussion to address the European financial crisis, we see a Europe that has emerged from recession," Obama said Friday at a news conference wrapping up a three-day European trip that included the two-day G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg.
Obama was dogged at the summit by revelations of spying by the National Security Agency and held private meetings with the presidents of Brazil and Mexico to assure them that his administration would work to resolve tensions over allegations that the NSA monitored their communications.
After separate sessions with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Obama said he told both leaders that he takes the allegations of spying on their communications seriously and said he promised to address their concerns.
"What we do is similar to what countries around the world do with their intelligence services," Obama said. "But what is true is that, you know, we are bigger. We have greater capabilities."
He said he wants a review of intelligence efforts to determine the costs and benefits. "Just because we can get information doesn't necessarily always mean that we should," he said.
Both Pena Nieto and Rousseff have expressed outrage over revelations that the NSA kept tabs on their communications. The spying was reported by Brazil's Globo TV, which cited 2012 documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Pena Nieto says it would constitute an illegal act. Rousseff responded by canceling a trip to Washington by a team of aides preparing for her upcoming U.S. visit.
Though the civil war in Syria and Obama's call for a military response to chemical weapons use there dominated much of the conversation, Obama said the 20 leaders also paid heed to a litany of issues such as helping foster growth in emerging economies, promoting infrastructure and fighting corruption. He said the nations agreed to continue with financial reforms and to address tax evasion and avoidance that he says undermines budgets and shifts the tax burden.
The president spoke after the U.S. government reported that the unemployment rate had dropped to 7.3 percent, the lowest in nearly five years. But the jobs picture remained tepid. More Americans stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed and the combined job creation in June, July and August amounted to the weakest three-month stretch of job growth in a year.
With a confrontation brewing with Congress over raising the nation's borrowing limit, Obama warned lawmakers that it shouldn't risk a U.S. default "over paying bills we've already racked up." He said he was determined that the world has confidence "in the full faith and credit of the United States."
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