* U.S. seeks show of unity at summit dominated by Ukraine
* Obama, EU counterparts to tackle Russia, trade, energy
* Obama to speak on strength of transatlantic relations
* Both sides to commit to integrate economies in TTIP pact
By Robin Emmott and Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS, March 26 The European Union will press
U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday to help reduce Europe's
reliance on Russian energy by exporting U.S. natural gas, at a
time of chill in relations with Moscow over its intervention in
After a visit to a World War One battlefield, Obama will
have just 75 minutes over lunch with the EU's top officials to
tackle issues ranging from energy to climate change, in a
meeting that will be dominated by the Ukraine crisis.
Yet if there were any doubts about the EU-U.S relationship
after last year's revelations that Washington spied on its
allies, Obama plans to assuage them later in the day in a speech
to some 2,000 guests, before leaving for Rome.
"Recent developments just underscore the importance of the
transatlantic relationship," Obama's top trade envoy, Michael
Froman, said during a visit to Brussels before the summit.
"Right now, as we look around the world, there is a powerful
reason for Europe and the United States to come together to
demonstrate that they can take their relationship to a new
level," said Froman, who is the U.S. Trade Representative.
Obama will seek to send that message in his tour of Flanders
Field in northern Belgium where U.S. soldiers fought a century
ago, a visit steeped in historical significance that has been
accentuated by the tensions with Russia over Crimea.
Earlier this week, both sides sought unity in The Hague,
where Obama and Germany, France, Britain and Italy, along with
Japan and Canada, warned Russia it faced damaging economic
sanctions if Moscow took further action to destabilise Ukraine
following its seizure and annexation of Crimea.
Ukraine will be foremost in discussions on Wednesday in
light of the EU's efforts to scale back its imports of Russian
energy. Russia provides around one third of the EU's oil and gas
and some 40 percent of the gas is shipped through Ukraine.
EU leaders dedicated part of a summit to the issue last week
and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she supported asking
Obama to relax restrictions on exports of U.S. gas.
21ST CENTURY TRADE PACT
One way to do that is through the proposed free-trade
agreement between the United States and the European Union,
which would be the world's biggest accord of its kind, dubbed
the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.
"We should have an ambitious chapter on energy in the TTIP,"
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who will attend the
summit, said at the weekend, referring to EU demands for a clear
framework setting out U.S. commitments on gas exports.
The issue will also be discussed next week at a special
EU-U.S. Energy Council, officials said.
In the wake of the worst financial crisis since the Great
Depression, EU governments and the Obama administration see a
deep and broad free-trade deal as the best way to create jobs,
removing burdens and customs duties on businesses.
They say a "21st century" trade pact encompassing almost
half the world's economy could generate $100 billion in
additional economic output a year on both sides of the Atlantic
and set the standards for global business before China does.
The European Union and the United States already trade
almost $3 billion in goods and services each day, and by
thickening economic ties, the pact could create a market of 800
million people where business could be done freely.
But eight months into talks, public hostility is growing at
the idea of unfettered transatlantic commerce, while negotiators
remain far apart on many issues.
Reports of U.S. National Security Agency spying in Europe
have combined with concerns about the damage to food safety and
the environment under a free-trade pact. In both the United
States and Europe, unions also worry about lost jobs or lower
working standards and say that a trade pact will serve only the
interests of multinational companies.
Inside the negotiating rooms, other difficult issues include
how to open up to each other's markets, removing customs duties
that cost companies billions of dollars each year, particularly
automakers such as Ford and Volkswagen.
Washington and Brussels are at odds over an initial exchange
of offers to open up markets and cut tariffs, with each saying
the other has not been ambitious enough.
In an effort to overcome that, Obama, along with European
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council
President Herman Van Rompuy will promise to remove all tariffs
on bilateral trade, according to a draft of the summit's joint
declaration seen by Reuters.
"We reaffirm the objectives we agreed," the summit draft
declaration said. "Those goals include eliminating all duties on
bilateral goods trade."
($1 = 0.7255 Euros)
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)