France and US bury the hatchet with Sarkozy visit

7th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

7 November 2007, WASHINGTON (AFP) - Washington and Paris buried the hatchet Tuesday as US President George W. Bush warmly greeted his French counterpart at the White House, abandoning several years of strained relations over the Iraq war.

7 November 2007

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Washington and Paris buried the hatchet Tuesday as US President George W. Bush warmly greeted his French counterpart at the White House, abandoning several years of strained relations over the Iraq war.

The pair toasted their new relationship at a black-tie dinner inside the White House as Bush welcomed President Nicolas Sarkozy by saying in French: "Bienvenue a la Maison Blanche."

Sarkozy, who arrived on his first official visit to Washington to a red-carpet welcome, said he came with a simple message: "To reconquer the heart of America in a lasting fashion."

The evening kicked off with the ritzy meal of Maine lobster bisque and Elysian farm lamb accompanied by Napa Valley wine, and was to be followed Wednesday by a rare address by a foreign leader to both houses of Congress.

In contrast to the last official US visit by a French president in 2001  -- when Jacques Chirac earned US consternation for hailing France as an antidote to American "hyperpower" -- Sarkozy quipped that one can "be a friend of America and win election in France!"

Elected in May, the leader often called "Sarko the American" is one of the most pro-US French leaders in decades and clearly aims to show Bush that France has turned a page on the past.

Even if the crisis over the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq never led to a complete break in cross-Atlantic cooperation, relations have been notably cool for several years.

"France and the United States can meet great challenges when we work together, Mr. President," Bush told Sarkozy. "You and I share a commitment to deepen the cooperation of our two republics -- and through this cooperation, we can make the world a better place."

Sarkozy -- who frequently highlights "the historic friendship" between France and the United States even though such talk still rankles some of his countrymen who remain wary of all things American -- hailed US courage after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

"On 9/11 terrorists thought that they had brought, or they could bring America to its knees. And I will tell you that, seen from the French perspective, never has America seemed so great, so proud, so admirable as on 9/11."

The evening's entertainment featured a performance celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French soldier and diplomat who played a key role in the American Revolution and was a friend of the first US president, George Washington.

An Elysee spokesman said that during the visit Bush and Sarkozy would discuss "all the main international dossiers, whether regional crises or big strategic questions."

The two are in close agreement on many issues such as the Iran nuclear standoff, where Paris has given strong support for the US attempt to secure stronger sanctions.

Sarkozy, speaking earlier in the day to French and American business leaders, ruled out a nuclear-armed Iran but called for dialogue.

"The hypothesis of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the current leaders of Iran is for France inacceptable," he said. However, "one must remain open to dialogue, with a hand extended."

The French president also implied that the US and Chinese economic superpowers were unfairly benefiting from weak currencies.

"I will go to China and I will tell (authorities) they have such a spectacular success ... you don't need to have a currency so devalued to succeed," he said, referring to his scheduled visit on November 25-27.

On the US dollar, which hit another record low Tuesday against the euro, Sarkozy added: "A strong economy should have a strong currency. You don't need a dollar too weak; your technology, your know-how is enough."

The highlight of the visit is set for Wednesday, when Sarkozy is due to address Congress.

The occasion has been hailed as "a great honor" by the French, who recall how in 1824 the Senate and the House of Representatives held their first joint session to greet another Frenchman -- the Marquis de Lafayette, the nobleman and adventurer who played a key role in the American Revolution.

The last French president to address the two chambers of Congress was Sarkozy's predecessor, Chirac, in 1996.

Afterwards, Sarkozy will join Bush for talks at Mount Vernon, the historic residence of the first US president, George Washington.

Bush and Sarkozy met for the first time at the Group of Eight summit in Germany in June and shared a burger lunch during the French leader's American holidays in August.

That last meeting made headlines when Sarkozy's then-wife Cecilia snubbed the US president. The French president and his wife have since divorced.


Subject: French news

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