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Geithner: U.S., Europe Broadly Agree On Financial Reform Details

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BERLIN — The United States and Europe broadly agree on the need for reform of the financial system, but global cooperation is needed, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Thursday. He also said countries are working together to balance cutting back deficits with supporting economic growth.

Geithner met German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble during a two-day visit to Europe that also took him to Britain and to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

The trip comes amid ongoing market volatility following European nations' agreement this month on a euro750 billion (nearly $1 trillion) loan backstop for governments in danger of defaulting on debt – coupled with efforts to cut budget deficits.

Germany, the eurozone's biggest economy, pushed that deal through parliament last week. Geithner welcomed Berlin's "leadership role" in putting together "this very strong framework," as well as its speedy action to implement it.

He deflected worries that austerity measures could lead to an economic setback. He underlined the need to reduce debt "to sustainable levels over the medium term" and added that "we're going to get there at somewhat different paces."

"We are working very closely together to try to make sure that we are strengthening and reinforcing this global recovery," he said.

Schaeuble noted that the rules governing the euro are titled the "stability and growth pact" and said countries would try to do justice to both elements.

The eurozone rescue package – preceded by a rescue for Greece that remains unpopular in Germany – has been accompanied by renewed European determination to advance regulatory reform of the financial system. Many on the continent contend that speculative market practices exacerbated the debt crisis.

Last week, European Union governments overrode British objections and U.S. worries to tighten rules for hedge funds, and Germany unilaterally announced curbs on traders of government debt and bank stocks – a move that rattled markets.

Geithner accentuated areas of trans-Atlantic agreement but stressed the U.S. commitment to a "a cooperative global approach" leading up to next month's summit of the Group of 20, which combines rich countries with emerging nations such as China and India.

"The United States and Europe are in broad agreement on the importance of putting in place more conservative constraints on risk-taking, more conservative capital requirements, bringing transparency and disclosure to derivatives markets, making sure that the regulators and supervisors can do their job," Geithner said.

He acknowledged that "we're going to have slightly different approaches because we have different systems."

But "we all agree on the need for a common framework," he added. "These are global markets, you need common standards – you don't want to just let risk move outside the scope of regulation."

He didn't comment directly on the German ban on so-called naked short-selling and planned legislation to cement it in law.

Schaeuble – who acknowledged that "the American approach is a somewhat different one" – renewed his defense of the move, saying it was justified given recent months' experiences and could be superseded by future European regulation.

One area of agreement is the need for a levy on major banks to ensure that they cover the costs of any future banking crisis.

In Paris Thursday, one of President Barack Obama's top advisers said it would be a mistake for the U.S. to rapidly wind down stimulus measures to cut its deficit.

"It would be wrong to tighten fiscal policy immediately, as that would nip the nascent economic recovery in the bud," said Christina Romer, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

She advocated further measures such as fiscal relief for state and local governments and extension of emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Both Geithner and Schaeuble argued that it was no problem for countries to take varying approaches.

"The balance is going to be different in different countries," Geithner said. "That's a necessary, desirable thing. We all have slightly different room for maneuver."

Schaeuble said European countries with aging populations and lower potential growth have "narrower room for maneuver" on sustaining deficits than nations such as the U.S. with a strong growth dynamic.

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