France's Sarkozy Heading to US
By ELAINE GANLEY , PARIS (AP) — He's vacationed in New Hampshire, lunched with the Bush family in Maine and taken a tough line on Iran.
By ELAINE GANLEY
PARIS (AP) — He's vacationed in New Hampshire, lunched with the Bush family in Maine and taken a tough line on Iran.
The man known as "Sarko the American" takes his quest across the Atlantic this week in his first official trip to the United States, where he plans to tour Mount Vernon with President Bush and address a joint session of Congress, moves meant to evoke the two centuries of ties between the two nations.
"There is no question we are entering ... a dynamic, positive period. The tide has really turned in this relationship," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicolas Burns said during a visit last week to Paris. He gave Sarkozy a large measure of credit for the change.
"He has brought much fresh air to this relationship," Burns said.
The son of a Hungarian immigrant, the energetic 52-year-old conservative is a man in perpetual motion. He has wasted no time in his bid to modernize France, in part by trying to inject an American-style work ethic.
He also did not wait for his May 6 election to undertake his mission of friendship with the United States. Sarkozy nursed that goal for five years, as interior minister, as finance minister and as a candidate. Once elected, he immediately reached out to "our American friends."
The United States "can count on our friendship," Sarkozy said in his victory speech.
Already, the two countries are in deep agreement over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program, with both opting for tough diplomacy to ensure Tehran is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
And Sarkozy sent his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, on a surprise three-day trip to Baghdad in August to enhance France's role in Iraq's future and mend relations with the United States that were damaged by former President Jacques Chirac's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Kouchner caused a stir when he said that U.S.-backed Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki should be replaced.
In his first major foreign policy speech to France's diplomats since his May election, Sarkozy said Kouchner was right to go to Baghdad, and said his efforts there were "remarkable."
Sarkozy also said Iraqis needed a "clear timetable for the pullout of foreign troops," a disagreement with the Bush administration.
Iraq will simply not be on the agenda of Sarkozy's Washington trip, officials here say.
Sarkozy will bring Kouchner, a Socialist; along with ministers whose unusual backgrounds have been seen as signs of the president's reform agenda: Justice Minister Rachida Dati, of Moroccan and Algerian parentage and Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who spent years in Chicago and says bluntly that the French should roll up their sleeves and pursue a more American-style work ethic.
But there will be no first lady accompanying the French president. Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia announced their divorce on Oct. 18, a first for a French head of state.
Sarkozy's trip is not without risks — in France. Bush remains an unpopular figure here and while the French are fascinated by the United States, the American way of life gets low marks.
Sarkozy was careful, in his victory speech to add that "friendship is to accept that friends can think differently."
During his visit, Sarkozy must be careful not to appear subservient to Bush or evoke comparisons with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, accused by critics of being Bush's lap dog.
"French public opinion at large remains quite anti-American," said Denis Lacorne, a specialist on the United States at the Institute for Political Studies' international research center. "We dislike American wars, we dislike American capitalism," he said, even if "there's a great love of American popular culture."
Many French were shocked by a photo of Bush and the smiling Sarkozy, then a candidate, shaking hands in Washington. That personal rapport culminated in a lunch last summer with the Bush clan at Kennebunkport, Maine, as the Sarkozys vacationed in New Hampshire.
Officials here say Sarkozy's decision to actively seek to renew, and improve, French ties with the United States was seeded in his series of meetings with American officials when he served as the minister of interior, then finance, under Chirac.
"Some in France call me Sarkozy l'Americain. I'm proud," he said during an April 2004 trip to the United States.
Subject: French news