(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 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.
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