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As election nears, Obama pushes Europe to mend turbulent economy

With global anxiety rising, President Obama is searching for bolder, swifter signals from Europe that it will contain its financial mess and keep it from torpedoing the U.S. economy and his re-election chances along with it.

Yet as he prepares for summit talks beginning Monday in Mexico with the other world leaders in the Group of 20, Obama is down to the power of persuasion and little else.

Today's Greek election and Europe's internal politics are controlling the debate.

Given the teetering global economy, the G-20 summit in Los Cabos carries the weight of expectations it is not likely to meet. Most of its members are not part of Europe, and they have no power to drive how the continent manages its crisis, although do they come looking for signs of progress and urgency.

That clearly is the case for Obama, locked in a tight election that may be decided by whether U.S. job growth sinks or climbs over the next five months.

While economic challenge will dominate the summit, the agenda runs deeper.

In talks on the sidelines, Obama will confront the bloodshed in Syria and the nuclear threat in Iran. He will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin; their talks will be scrutinized, given tense U.S.-Russian political relations and deep divisions over Syria.

Obama was to head to Mexico tonight for the two-day summit after a weekend with his family in their hometown of Chicago.

Europe's entangled financial crisis, from debt woes in Greece to banking trouble in Spain and high unemployment all around, has become the single biggest threat to the U.S. economic recovery.

Obama is prodding European leaders to give world markets some confidence, and fast.

"Obviously, this matters to us because Europe is our largest economic trading partner," Obama said. "If there's less demand for our products in places like Paris or Madrid, it could mean less business for manufacturers in places like Pittsburgh or Milwaukee. The good news is there is a path out of this challenge. These decisions are fundamentally in the hands of Europe's leaders."

He wants to emerge from Mexico with signs that the European players at the table, led by Germany, are moving on their own agenda. That means pursuing a banking union to match the monetary union linking the eurozone, taking steps to keep borrowing costs down in the weakest nations and injecting life into economies with growth plans involving public money.

Or in short, as Treasury Undersecretary Lael Brainard put it, the focus in Mexico will be "ensuring our European partners are escalating their response" to stabilizing a dicey situation.

"The stakes are high for all of us," she said.

The agenda threatens to be upended by the outcome of today's election in Greece.

In choosing a new government for their debt-drowning nation, Greek voters will decide whether to stick with the deeply unpopular austerity terms of an international bailout package or reject them. If they do the latter, that could lead Greece to default and get booted out of the eurozone, which could cause panic and destabilize the world's financial system.

Here, too, Obama has tried to hold sway from abroad.

"It is in everybody's interest for Greece to remain in the eurozone while respecting its commitment to reform," he said. "We recognize the sacrifices that the Greek people have made. But the Greek people also need to recognize that their hardships will likely be worse if they choose to exit from the eurozone."

Of the G-20 nations, only Germany, Italy and France are in the 17-nation eurozone at the center of the crisis. European leaders cite a summit of their own, to be held in Brussels at the end of June, as the more appropriate time to watch for action on a crisis response plan.

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