Bush to host France's Sarkozy for lunch

10th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine, Aug 10, 2007 (AFP) - President George W. Bush will host his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy for the first time Saturday, having him round for lunch in a hint of warming bilateral relations after the chill that fell under France's last president.

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine, Aug 10, 2007 (AFP) - President George W. Bush will host his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy for the first time Saturday, having him round for lunch in a hint of warming bilateral relations after the chill that fell under France's last president.

"This is an opportunity for the two leaders and their wives to get to know each other better, spend some time together in a private setting," Bush's National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Thursday.

He gave few details of the informal meeting, where Bush and First Lady Laura Bush will receive Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia at their family holiday home overlooking the Atlantic, in an area noted for its lobsters.

"This is very much a social lunch where at some point, if the opportunity presents itself, they may talk about some of the issues facing our two countries," Johndroe said.

But in-depth discussion of major issues will wait until an official meeting likely to take place later in the year, "some time this fall," he added.

No news conference has been scheduled and White House spokesman Tony Snow stressed the non-political nature of the meeting.

"I'm sure they'll talk about some international matters, but this is not a summit, this is not something with an agenda. The agenda is, come by and let's visit," he said Wednesday.

Sarkozy came to power in May, taking over from Jacques Chirac who had led France for more than a decade. The Bushes invited him to the United States when they met at a summit in Europe in June.

Snow said the meeting in Kennebunkport, Maine, could mark a "new era" in the two countries' relationship.

Chirac's latter term in office saw a cooling of relations with Washington due to the French president's opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple its former dictator Saddam Hussein.

But Sarkozy has made clear he intends to strengthen ties with the United States. After his election he declared that Americans can "count on the friendship" of the French.

Sarkozy's image in France is that of an "Atlantist," committed to better relations with Washington. His conservative ways and a pre-election working trip to the United States led to critics branding him "The American".

He has even spent the past week on holiday there, forgoing French sunspots for the long summer break in favor of Wolfeboro in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, a mere 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Bush residence.

Bush in turn has expressed openness to strengthening ties with France.

"France and the United States have been very strong allies for over 200 years," Johndroe said. France backed the United States in its fight for independence from its British colonial rulers in the late 18th century.

"From time to time differences may arise on specific matters, but on the vast majority of things we work very closely together," he added, citing global political issues involving Iran, Lebanon and Sudan.

"It looks like we're on the verge of a new era of relations with the French, which is a good thing," Snow said Wednesday.

A smiling, tanned Sarkozy said Sunday in a brief press conference in Wolfeboro that he had chosen the holiday location at the invitation of friends and that he wanted to see "deep America, the forests, lakes, and tranquility."

"Nine hundred thousand French go to the United States every year, and I am just one of them," he said. "When I was young I did not have the chance to come."

Johndroe did not rule out the possibility of Bush taking Sarkozy on a fishing trip, as he did with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month.

George H.W. Bush, the president's father and former US president, is "very gracious" when it comes to fishing, Johndroe said.

AFP

Subject: French news

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