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Obama plays up US-Europe bond amid Russia tension

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 26, 2014 at 11:56 am •  Published: March 26, 2014

BRUSSELS (AP) — President Barack Obama and European Union leaders presented a unified front Wednesday against Russia's annexation of Crimea, promoting trans-Atlantic trade as an antidote to Russia's influence in the region and a way to help Europe become less dependent on Moscow for energy.

Obama said if Russian leaders thought they could drive a wedge between Europe and the United States "they clearly miscalculated."

Obama spoke during a news conference at the Council of the European Union, after a working lunch with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that participants said was dominated by discussion of Ukraine. Van Rompuy called Russia's action in Crimea "a disgrace in the 21st century, and we will not recognize it."

Obama said coordination between the U.S. and Europe on economic sanctions against Russia has been excellent and warned that if Russia continues on its current course, "the isolation will deepen."

The leaders also expressed confidence they would complete a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that seeks to remove trade barriers between the 28-nation bloc and the U.S. Obama noted the arrangement would have a Ukraine connection because it could provide a counterweight to Russian energy leverage in Europe.

Obama said some countries have legitimate questions about whether free trade deals will benefit them in the long-term. But he cautioned skeptics to wait to see what's negotiated before reaching conclusions.

The president said some suspicions about the so-called TTIP have been unjustified. He declared that he has fought for consumer and environmental protections during his political career and will not sign legislation that would weaken those protections.

"I'm confident we can actually shape a trade deal" that is acceptable to critics on consumer protections and climate issues, he said.

Obama's own relations with Europe have been hurt by revelations of communications prying by the U.S. National Security Agency. Van Rompuy said E.U. leaders conveyed their concerns directly to Obama in their meeting, and the president agreed to take aggressive steps to address the issue. Van Rompuy called for "equal treatment of E.U. and U.S. citizens."

Obama came to Brussels to shore up commitments he received from allies in The Hague, Netherlands, to reassure Eastern European members of NATO that the alliance will stand by them and to make a larger point about European security a quarter-century after the fall of the Iron Curtain. He met later with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, head of the alliance born as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

Obama said he wants to see every NATO partner "chip in" for mutual defense and that members should examine their defense plans to make sure they reflect current threats.

"I have had some concerns about a diminished level of defense spending by some of our partners in NATO," Obama said. "The situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn't free."

With tensions running high on the continent, Obama earlier called for a recommitment to peace during a solemn pilgrimage to a World War I site, Flanders Field American Cemetery and Memorial in northwest Belgium.

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