CORRECTED - UPDATE 2-White House tells EU to take decisive action on debt

Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:59pm GMT

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(Corrects Merkel German chancellor not president, paragraph 2)

* Von Rompuy, Barroso, Ashton meet top U.S. officials

* Euro zone crisis to dominate meeting at White House

* Iran, Syria, violence in Balkans also on agenda (Updates headline and lead, adds quotes paragraphs 5-6)

By Laura MacInnis

WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama pressed European Union officials on Monday to act quickly and decisively to resolve their sovereign debt crisis, which the White House said was weighing on the American economy.

Obama has been in regular telephone contact with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders as debt woes have piled up in Greece, Italy and Spain, hurting stock markets and raising doubts about U.S. exports and growth.

Monday's meeting with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso - an annual summit between leaders from Washington and Brussels - gave Obama a chance to ratchet up pressure on EU officials to act decisively to prevent further contagion.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and top White House advisers were taking part in the closed-door talks. They did not include Merkel, Sarkozy and other European heads of state who need to make tough decisions to salvage the euro zone.

"The president will reflect in his conversations in the meeting today ... that Europe needs to take decisive action, conclusive action to handle this problem, and that it has the capacity to do so," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"The events in Europe obviously have an impact on our economy. It's created a headwind for much of the year ... and continues to create that headwind," he told reporters.

Van Rompuy and Barroso wield influence as heads of key EU institutions at the heart of efforts to address the crisis, which has thrown the future of the 17-nation currency bloc into doubt at a moment of weakness for the global economy.

Obama, Van Rompuy and Barroso will make remarks after their meeting concludes at the White House on Monday.

The U.S. president has previously said that calming markets would require "some tough decisions" in Europe but not spelled out precisely what those may entail. Some in Washington believe the European Central Bank could be more active in the crisis, though that is an unpopular view across the Atlantic.

CONTAGION FEARS

Avoiding contagion from Europe is critical for Obama, whose re-election prospects next November hinge on his ability to shield the American economy from another downturn and bring down the unemployment rate of 9 percent.

Barroso and Van Rompuy were set to suggest ways to boost trade and investment across the Atlantic, including efforts to support businesses developing electric cars, smart grids and nanotechnology through less red tape and lower tariffs.

Companies including Microsoft (MSFT.O), Pfizer (PFE.N), Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) and Coca-Cola (KO.N) have argued there were important opportunities to be tapped across the Atlantic even if the U.S. and European economies were growing slowly.

"The United States and Europe remain at the heart of the world economy, each other's most important market for goods, services, capital and ideas," the Trans-Atlantic Business Council, whose other members include Unilever (ULVR.L), Intel (INTC.O), Siemens (SIEGn.DE) and Ford (F.N), said in a letter released ahead of Monday's meeting.

In spite of the turmoil in Europe, U.S. exports to the EU remained strong in the first nine months of 2011, up about 15 percent from the same period last year, according to U.S. data released this month.

While economic worries will dominate their meeting, Obama, Barroso and Van Rompuy are also set to discuss concerns about Iran's pursuit of nuclear materials and Syria's crackdown on protesters as well as violent flare-ups in the Balkans.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's top foreign policy official, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are also taking part in the talks that come on the heels of new Arab League and European Union sanctions on Damascus.

The EU leaders are likely to be nudged to seek stronger sanctions against Iran, given Europe now has more commercial and energy ties with the country than the United States does. (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer, Steve Holland and Caren Bohan in Washington and Luke Baker in Brussels; Editing by Paul Simao)

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