Sarkozy, Obama meet against violent backdrop
French President Nicolas Sarkozy Monday opened White House talks with President Barack Obama against a violent backdrop, after the Arizona shooting and the murder of French hostages in Africa.
Obama hosted the visit soon after leading Americans in a national moment of silence for victims of a lone gunman's shooting rampage which killed six people and left an Arizona congresswoman fighting for her life.
Sarkozy, meanwhile, was dealing with the fallout from the deaths in a failed rescue attempt by two French hostages snatched from a restaurant in Niger in a kidnapping blamed on Al-Qaeda.
The main focus of the talks was to be international security and France's hopes for world monetary reform as it plans to host the G20 summit of developed and developing nations and the G8 rich nations club summit this year.
The leaders were also expected to discuss security challenges such as the NATO-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, security in Pakistan and threats from militants that particularly concern France in north Africa.
Sarkozy on Sunday branded as "terrorists" suspected Al-Qaeda-linked kidnappers believed to have killed the two Frenchmen.
"This odious crime will only strengthen France's determination to fight tirelessly against terrorism... Democracies will fight face to face against these barbarians from another age who want to terrorise the whole world," he said.
One of Sarkozy's aides said the president attached "great importance to consulting his big partners" about his leadership this year of the G20 and G8 group of six major Western powers plus Russia and Japan.
"These discussions will allow him to refine the proposals he will make" during a press conference on January 24 dedicated to the G20 and G8 presidency, said the aide, who asked not be named.
On the Group of Eight, "the discussions will notably cover green economic growth, the Internet and partnership with Africa," the aide said, adding that Obama, in turn, would attend the G8 summit in France in May.
A French official, meanwhile, also said that Sarkozy will also meet Saudi Arabia's recuperating King Abdullah and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in New York.
The talks with the Saudi monarch will encompass regional issues including Lebanon, Iran, the Middle East peace process and terrorism, as well as bilateral French-Saudi relations, a member of Sarkozy's entourage said.
Sarkozy will meet separately with Hariri in "a continuation of the discussions he had with him last November 30 at the Elysee Palace over the situation in Lebanon and Lebanese-French relations," the official said.
Monday's talks mark Sarkozy's first meeting with Obama since the leaking of sensitive US diplomatic cables by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, which contained some embarrassing revelations for world leaders.
They revealed among other things that US diplomats, while lauding Sarkozy's pro-American stance and his pragmatism, branded him erratic and touchy, with a complex private life.
The United States came in for criticism of its monetary policy at the last G20 gathering in Seoul, but ahead of Monday's meetings, Obama highlighted his keenness for economic cooperation.
"As France assumes the presidency of the G8 and the G20 for 2011, the president looks forward to working with President Sarkozy to sustain the global economic recovery and create jobs," said a White House statement last week.
The presidency of the global groups offers Sarkozy a chance to boost his profile at home ahead of his widely expected bid for re-election in 2012.
© 2011 AFP