"George" and "Nicolas" celebrate US-France ties
US and French presidents exhibit warm personal ties and celebrated lasting relations between the two countries on Saturday.16 June 2008
PARIS - Presidents "George" and "Nicolas" showcased their warm personal ties and celebrated lasting US-French relations Saturday, relegating disputes such as the bitter rift over Iraq to mere policy "nuances."
Their banter and their united front on issues including Iran's controversial nuclear drive and on Syria seemed to make Paris the personal and diplomatic highlight of US President George W. Bush's six-country farewell trip to Europe.
From the start of their press conference at the presidential Elysee Palace, Bush used French President Nicolas Sarkozy's first name as he recalled that "America's first friend was France," helping win independence from Britain.
The president, who rolled out the red carpet for Sarkozy at the White House in November, lavished praise on the pro-American French leader who is sometimes dubbed "Sarkozy l'Americain" (Sarkozy the American).
"He's an interesting guy. He is full of energy. He's full of wisdom. He tells me what's on his mind. And every time I've met with him we've had very meaningful discussions," said Bush.
French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy stayed out of sight, sorely disappointing US media who hoped for a glimpse of the model-turned-singer - but Bush vouched for her as "a really smart, capable woman.
"I can see why you married her," said the US president, drawing laughter from French reporters, who chuckled again when Bush added: "and I can see why she married you, too."
Bush often praises the spouses of leaders he likes.
A chill in relations with Britain under Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the backslapping Bush-Sarkozy relationship have led some to wonder whether the "special relationship" might be moving from London to Paris.
The French president, accused by critics of being too close to the United States, said France and the United States had a "privileged" relationship but bristled at the idea that such close ties were a new phenomenon.
"Listen, the French and the Americans have had a privileged relationship for two centuries now," said Sarkozy. "It did not become that way just since my election."
But the French president has taken pains to repair relations badly frayed when his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, led international opposition to the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
The US House of Representatives responded by renaming French fries "Freedom Fries," Bush's Air Force One airplane served "Freedom toast" instead of "French toast," and television images showed Americans pouring French wine down sewers.
"The American people can be wounded, the people of France can be, too. We must be careful in our relations because of this, when we speak our mind to each other," said Sarkozy.
Sarkozy has moved to toughen France's stance on Iran over its suspect nuclear programme and offered to bring France back into NATO's integrated command, which it left in 1966 when Charles De Gaulle rejected US dominance of the alliance.
Bush and Sarkozy met casually last summer, when the US president had Sarkozy - then on holiday in New England - over for a barbecue at the Bush family's seaside compound in Maine.
After Paris, Bush was to travel to Britain for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II and a dinner with Brown. On Monday, the US president was to hold talks with the prime minister and face reporters together.
[AFP / Expatica]